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Your climate solutions journey begins now. Filled with the latest need-to-know science and fascinating insights from global leaders in climate policy, research, investment, and beyond, this video series is a brain-shift toward a brighter climate reality.

Climate Solutions 101 is the world’s first major educational effort focused solely on solutions. Rather than rehashing well-known climate challenges, Project Drawdown centers game-changing climate action based on its own rigorous scientific research and analysis. This course, presented in video units and in-depth conversations, combines Project Drawdown’s trusted resources with the expertise of several inspiring voices from around the world. Climate solutions become attainable with increased access to free, science-based educational resources, elevated public discourse, and tangible examples of real-world action. Continue your climate solutions journey, today.

A subtraction problem:’ A shrinking #ColoradoRiver faces sharp, sudden cuts — The #Nevada Independent #COriver #aridification

Southern Nevada Water Authority Intake #1 exposed April, 2022. Photo credit: SNWA

Click the link to read the article on the Nevada Independent website (Daniel Rothberg). Here’s an excerpt:

The ongoing drought and climatic conditions facing much of the West are “unprecedented,” said Camille Calimlim Touton, who leads the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the agency responsible for managing water infrastructure across the region. Touton told federal lawmakers on June 14 that Colorado River users must reduce diversions by a substantial amount: 2 to 4 million acre-feet. One acre-foot, alone, is a massive amount of water. It is enough water to fill one acre, about the size of a football field, to a depth of one foot. It is 325,851 gallons of water and weighs about 2.7 million pounds. Multiply that by two to four million, and that is how much water the states are being asked to conserve. For perspective, Nevada has the legal right to consume 300,000 acre-feet, about 1.8 percent of all the legal entitlements in the Colorado River system. Together, Arizona, Nevada and California used about 7 million acre-feet from the Colorado River last year.

The cutbacks are necessary, Touton explained, to stabilize Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the two largest reservoirs on the Colorado River. Over the past year, both reservoirs have hit record-low levels and have continued to drop. If they drop further, the West faces extreme risks in the production of hydroelectric power — which is shepherded across the region — and the deliveries of water downstream for millions of residents and farmers in the Southwest.

The size of the cutbacks is not necessarily a surprise. Nearly all of the state water officials and experts I’ve spoken to have crunched the numbers and come to a similar conclusion. But the speed at which the cuts must be made presents a challenging task for negotiators.

What Happens If Glen Canyon Dam’s Power Shuts Off? #LakePowell is drying behind one of the Southwest’s largest hydropower plants — @CircleOfBlue #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Glen Canyon Dam in Page, Ariz., forms Lake Powell. It’s still unclear how Colorado would participate in a federally mandated plan to conserve 2 to 4 million acre-feet water to protect the Colorado River system.

Click the link to read the article on the Circle of Blue website (Brett Walton):

  • Glen Canyon Dam is operating at 60 percent of its hydroelectric capacity.
  • Hydropower generation will likely shut down when Lake Powell’s elevation drops below 3,490 feet. Currently the lake is at 3,534 feet.
  • Besides the kilowatt-hours it generates, Glen Canyon provides key services to the electric grid.
  • Critics of the Bureau of Reclamation had a favored slur for the concrete and earthen walls that the federal agency raised across magnificent canyons of the Colorado River watershed: cash register dams.

    The dig wasn’t wrong, especially during the agency’s mid-20th century construction spree. For decades, hydroelectric dams in the Colorado River Storage Project supplied cheap power and a relatively steady revenue stream from electricity sales that helped repay dam construction and operation costs while also subsidizing crop production and settlement of the American West.

    Today, the cash registers are ringing at much lower decibels. Sapped by a warming climate, the grand reservoirs of the Colorado River are in a two-decade decline, dropping low enough that hydropower from one of the grandest, Lake Powell, may soon be in doubt.

    The country’s second largest reservoir and a lynchpin in the intermountain electric grid, Powell is more dirt than water these days. The reservoir holds just 27 percent of its full capacity. In April it dropped to a level not witnessed since Glen Canyon Dam was completed nearly six decades ago. Water in Powell is released through turbines in the dam, generating power that electrifies homes, businesses, rural coops, and irrigation pumps across six states and more than 50 Native American tribes.

    Lake Powell’s feeble condition is part of a climate reckoning in the West that links water, ecosystems, food production, and energy generation. A drying climate and withering heat in recent years have pummeled the region: water cuts to farmers, dry wells, mass fish and bird die-offs, and depleted reservoirs that have decimated hydropower output.

    Glen Canyon Dam is now operating at about 60 percent of its designed hydroelectric capacity, according to Nick Williams, the Upper Colorado River Basin power office manager for the Bureau of Reclamation. Rated for 1,320 megawatts — roughly the size of a large fossil fuel plant — the dam is now capable of only 800 megawatts.

    The failure of Glen Canyon Dam to produce hydropower, in isolation, would be bothersome for energy markets but not a catastrophe. It would raise the cost of electricity for 5 million retail power customers, increase greenhouse gas emissions associated with electricity generation, and eliminate key grid-support services that hydropower provides.

    But a loss of generating capacity at Glen Canyon at the wrong time — in the summer, for instance, when electricity demands are high — combined with other power station outages could contribute to an electric supply contagion, grid strain, and blackouts in the western states, according to a recent reliability assessment from a national energy watchdog.

    Recognizing this, the Department of the Interior took emergency action last month to throw a life preserver at Lake Powell. The Bureau of Reclamation’s parent agency ordered it to hold back more water in the reservoir and at the same time release reinforcement supplies from Flaming Gorge, a smaller reservoir higher in the watershed. Together the actions will add nearly 1 million acre-feet to Powell this year, equivalent to 16 feet of water in the beleaguered reservoir.

    Explaining the decision, Tanya Trujillo, the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for water and science, said that the integrity not only of the dam’s power generation but also its water delivery system was at stake if Powell were to breach elevation 3,490 feet — the level at which hydropower generation at Glen Canyon Dam would likely cease.

    “In such circumstances,” Trujillo wrote to water leaders in the basin states, “Glen Canyon Dam facilities face unprecedented operational reliability challenges, water users in the Basin face increased uncertainty, downstream resources could be impacted, the western electrical grid would experience uncertain risk and instability, and water and power supplies to the West and Southwestern United States would be subject to increased operational uncertainty.”

    Glen Canyon Dam from the east side. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

    Uncertain, Unstable Times
    A dress rehearsal already occurred last summer when Lake Oroville, California’s second largest reservoir, dropped below its minimum power level, and Hyatt Powerplant stopped producing electricity due to low water for the first time in its history. The same fate could await Lake Powell.

    Bureau of Reclamation projections indicate the reservoir has a 10 percent chance in the next two years of breaching 3,490 feet. As of June 5, the reservoir’s elevation was 3,534 feet and slowly climbing as melting snow and Interior’s emergency actions contribute to a seasonal rise that has added nearly 12 feet to the reservoir since it bottomed out in April. It is out of the danger zone, for now.

    Water users in the Colorado River basin are already feeling the effects of depleted reservoirs. Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir and located on the Colorado River a few hundred miles downstream, also plunged to a record low this spring. A subsequent shortage declaration means that Arizona and Nevada must reduce their withdrawals.

    Water reaches Mead by flowing through Glen Canyon. The Interior Department moved this spring to prop up Powell because it worried about Glen Canyon’s water delivery system in low-water conditions. Water is released downstream through the penstocks, which feed the dam’s turbines. If the lake drops too low to produce power, that route is cut off. Water would instead be released through the outlet works, which are untested in extended use as the primary water delivery option.

    Glen Canyon’s power customers are also in a pinch.

    When Powell drops closer to the 3,490-foot level, operating the dam becomes a game of inches, Williams said. The top of the penstocks — the 15-foot diameter pipes that send water to the turbines — are at elevation 3,477.5 feet. But as the reservoir approaches that level, vortexes could form as water is drawn into the pipes. The violent whorls can injure the dam’s power-generating equipment.

    For now, 3,490 feet is the red line because that was the designer’s safe estimate and Glen Canyon was able to generate at that level when Powell was being filled in the 1960s. Even so, Williams, the power office manager, said that Reclamation staff is modeling operational changes to eke out a few more feet of operating range.

    The power that Glen Canyon generates is pooled with other federal dams in the upper basin and sold by the Western Area Power Administration. Until last December, WAPA was purchasing power for its customers to compensate for the hydropower shortfall. That model led to a financial cliff.

    Due to the expense of market-rate replacement power, WAPA was at risk of depleting the upper basin fund. The fund functions as a checking account, taking in power revenues and paying out costs. Those costs include dam construction repayment and annual dam operations and maintenance. They also include successful environmental programs intended to protect endangered fish in the Colorado and San Juan rivers, reduce salt loads in the river, and make Glen Canyon water releases less damaging to the river corridor.

    In 2021, the fund was in jeopardy due to declining hydropower generation. The fund balance was cut in half, dropping from $146 million in January 2021 to $74 million by the end of the year. That resulted in an emergency rate change in December that is expected to stabilize the fund, said Lisa Meiman, a WAPA spokesperson. In most cases, WAPA will no longer buy market-rate power. Individual utilities will shoulder all the added expense. One other action alleviated financial pressure on the basin fund: direct appropriations from Congress to the environmental programs.

    Less hydropower will force utilities to look elsewhere for replacement supplies, including from fossil fuel sources. The effect of a hydropower shortfall varies with region, weather, and time of day or year. More coal and natural gas will certainly increase greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector.

    But how much? Kelly Sanders of the University of Southern California says the magnitude of a carbon emissions increase due to drought is difficult to calculate, owing to the complexity of electricity supply and demand. The answer is usually only apparent much later, after rigorous data analysis. However, losing a carbon-free source like hydropower means that, all else being equal, the average carbon emissions for electricity goes up.

    Customers of Glen Canyon power are confronting those tradeoffs as they search for replacement power.

    As a share of its electricity supply, the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority is one of the biggest consumers of Upper Colorado hydropower. In 2020, NTUA acquired 42 percent of its electricity from the Upper Colorado dams.

    If power generation forecasts hold true, NTUA estimates that the utility would pay $4.5 million more for electricity this year, according to Srinivasa Venigalla, the deputy general manager. Those costs would be passed on to the utility’s roughly 43,000 residential and commercial customers, he said.

    Venigalla hopes Glen Canyon does not go dark. But his utility is preparing in case that day comes. NTUA already has 55 megawatts of solar generation capacity on Navajo lands and another 4 megawatts will come online by the end of this year.

    The solar installations won’t completely replace Glen Canyon’s hydropower, Venigalla said. But they will reduce the utility’s purchases of market power.

    A diversity of power sources will help other utilities that receive Glen Canyon hydropower. Tri-State Generation and Transmission, a cooperative with 42 utility members in Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Wyoming, usually acquires 8 percent of its power from the Upper Colorado hydroelectric system.

    Lee Baughey, vice president for communications, said that the utility expects its hydropower allocation to drop by a third this year.

    “It places pressure on our costs, but we can manage through,” Baughey said.

    Households have company in that regard. Roosevelt Irrigation District pumps water to about 38,000 acres in Maricopa County, Arizona. Donovan Neese, the district superintendent since 2011, said retail power customers span the breadth of the county’s agribusiness: cold storage facilities for fruits and vegetables, dairies, cotton gins, and feed mills.

    About half the district’s power comes from Glen Canyon and Hoover dams. Neese is in the process of developing the budget for the next fiscal year and did not have exact numbers, but the effect for Roosevelt customers is the same as elsewhere: less hydropower means higher costs.

    “That means we continue to advocate for water conservation,” Neese said.

    Farm fields in Arizona, where irrigation pumps are partly powered by Glen Canyon Dam. (Source: Water Education Foundation)

    Hydropower as a Service

    Glen Canyon’s value extends far beyond the customers. The dam is more than just the kilowatt-hours it generates, said Nathalie Voisin of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. It also plays an important role in the operation of regional electric grids.

    In the southwestern states encircling the Colorado River basin, the majority of power generation is not derived from the force of flowing water. Most comes from fossil fuels, wind, and solar. Nonetheless, hydropower fulfills a valuable niche. Because its generators can deliver electricity quickly — “ramping” in the lingo — hydro bridges the period when solar and wind power wane and before gas-fired turbines can power up. This quick-start capability is especially important when electricity demand is high, such as summer heat waves.

    “The economic and reliability values from ramping are very large,” said Voisin, who studies hydropower and its response to changes in climate, season, and technology. “There’s a lot at stake for not being able to get Glen Canyon working for hydropower operation during the summer time.”

    Lake Powell, in effect, functions as a large battery, able to be turned on and off to meet fluctuating power demands. Even if Powell were to be drained and the water stored in Lake Mead, as some environmental groups advocate, the grid benefits of Glen Canyon would still need to be reckoned with.

    “Glen Canyon cannot be easily replaced with other renewables because Glen Canyon is already critical in their integration into the grid,” Voisin explained. “The replacement technology needs to compensate for the range of grid services provided by Glen Canyon, which is more than capacity and generation. Storage in particular would be needed.”

    A rapid increase in water storage behind Glen Canyon is unlikely. Analysts at the Bureau of Reclamation simulate future Colorado River conditions every month. The latest model scenarios show a 10 percent chance that Lake Powell drops below 3,490 feet by April 2024. That’s less than two years away. Not enough days to completely reconfigure the region’s energy services. But plenty of time to ponder a future without Glen Canyon hydropower.

    #ColoradoRiver states need to drastically cut down their #water usage ASAP, or the federal government will step in — #Colorado Public Radio #COriver #aridification

    A view of Reflection Canyon in Lake Powell, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, in 2013. Sedimentary rock forms the landscape surrounding Lake Powell, on the Colorado River at the Utah-Arizona border. (Gary Ladd/National Park Service/Public domain)

    Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Public Radio website (Michael Elizabeth Sakas). Here’s an excerpt:

    During a U.S. Senate hearing on Western drought [June 14, 2022], the commissioner for the Bureau of Reclamation told the states in the Colorado River Basin that they have 60 days to create an emergency plan to stop using between 2 and 4 million acre-feet of water in the next year or the agency will use its emergency authority to make the cuts itself…Touton said the seven states must “stay at the table until the job is done.”


    Commissioner Touton’s directive dropped just a couple of days before the University of Colorado Boulder’s annual Colorado law conference on natural resources, which is focused on the Colorado River.

    “That elephant is filling this whole room,” John Fleck, a water policy professor at the University of New Mexico, said at the start of his talk at the conference. Fleck, who has also written multiple books on the Colorado River, watched Touton’s testimony in his Alamosa hotel room en route to the conference…

    Fleck said the directive, combined with the “threat” of federal action if the states don’t act, creates an extraordinary challenge for water managers and users in the Colorado River Basin — a group he noted included many of the people at the CU Boulder conference.

    To explain the federal agency’s reasoning for calling for such massive cuts, bureau hydrologic engineer James Prairie presented to attendees an updated forecast of expected flows into Lakes Powell and Mead over the next few years. By early 2024, projections show water levels in Lake Powell could drop too low for hydropower turbines to operate and generate electricity.

    Battling #ClimateChange with #solar, #hydro and a shifting fleet Denver Water is cutting its carbon footprint, while preparing for a drier, hotter future — News on Tap #ActOnCLimate

    Click the link to read the article on the Denver Water website (Todd Hartman):

    Denver Water sits on the front lines of climate change.

    Rising temperatures, long-term drought and less dependable snowpack are all making the job of providing water to 1.5 million people tougher.

    Denver Water’s administration building is powered by solar panels. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    In response, the utility is preparing for a future with a less consistent water supply for its customers, through innovations including greater efficiency, One Water and new storage projects such as the Gross Reservoir expansion.

    Learn more about how the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project makes us more resilient in the face of climate change with greater water security.

    The utility also is moving aggressively to cut its own carbon footprint, striving to meet goals for producing renewable energy and reducing dependence on energy sources tied directly to warming temperatures.

    In 2020, Denver Water met an organizational goal for “net zero” annual energy consumption. That’s a fancy way of saying it produced as much or more energy than it consumed, and that its energy was generated using carbon-free sources: hydropower and solar power.

    To be precise, the utility produced roughly 1.5 million more “kilowatt-hour equivalents” than it used in 2020.

    The utility’s solar power panels and hydropower generators produced enough clean energy to account for not only its electricity use but also the natural gas it uses for heat. Natural gas burned to supply heat is an energy category that’s not always factored into “net zero” calculations, but Denver Water made a point of including it to create a stretch goal for its effort.

    Denver Water’s solar panels generated more than 1 million kilowatt hours of electricity in 2020. Photo credit: Denver Water

    “Several years earlier, we had set a goal to hit ‘net-zero’ as a benchmark for our sustainability efforts,” said Kate Taft, Denver Water’s sustainability manager. “Hitting that in 2020 was the result of a lot of focused, dedicated work across the organization and represents an important milestone in the utility’s long history of environmental progress.”

    Net-zero is a big deal in the era of climate change.

    Learn more about how Denver Water has leaned into the challenge of climate change and how its work to track emissions has been recognized by outside experts.

    Many major corporations are striving to attain the status, including companies such as Coca-Cola and General Motors. Many companies and governments have set net-zero goals for 2030 and 2040, for example.

    Denver Water got there sooner. Though, to be sure, Denver Water benefits from — wait for it — water in this endeavor.

    Water spills from Williams Fork Reservoir in 2019. The power of moving water is a major source of emission-free electricity for Denver Water. Photo credit: Denver Water

    Hydroelectric power is generated at seven locations in Denver Water’s 4,000-square-mile collection area. That includes power generated at reservoirs but also at places like Roberts Tunnel, where the energy of water moving downhill through a tunnel that traverses the Continental Divide creates electricity.

    All told, Denver Water’s hydropower operations generate about 65 million emission-free kilowatt-hours per year. That translates to about the amount of electricity consumed by 6,000 homes for a year.

    While Denver Water generated hydropower for decades and is continuing to look for additional opportunities to generate power from moving water, including at its Northwater Treatment Plant currently under construction near Golden, the addition of solar power to its renewable energy portfolio is more recent.

    At the utility’s newly redeveloped Operations Complex, completed in 2019, solar power panels on the roof of the Administration Building and atop parking structures generated more than 1 million kilowatt hours of electricity in 2020. That offset the Administration Building’s use with more than 300,000 kilowatt-hours to spare.

    Crews install solar panels on top of Denver Water’s administration building in 2019. Photo credit: Denver Water

    That’s extra clean electricity that can go back into the grid for use by others.

    And in Denver Water’s new sustainability goals issued in 2021, the utility set a new target for itself: to increase its capacity to generate renewable energy by 1 megawatt and to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% from a 2015 baseline.

    How much is that 1 megawatt? Roughly, it would be like adding another solar array about the size of the one at the Operations Complex. Or, like adding the hydropower capacity that now exists at Strontia Springs Reservoir, situated 6 miles up Waterton Canyon southwest of Denver.

    Even as it works to add more green power, Denver Water may not always be able to meet its net-zero goal, at least in the short term.

    That’s because maintenance projects at times take hydroelectric facilities off-line or reduce their capacity. For example, for the next five years, Gross Reservoir will generate less power because its storage space for water will be cut by about one-third while a dam-raising project proceeds.

    Students learn about the hydroelectric plant at Hillcrest water storage facility in southeast Denver. Hydroelectricity at Hillcrest and six other sites is key to the utility’s ability to meet its net zero energy goals. Photo credit: Denver Water

    However once that project is completed, and the capacity of the reservoir is tripled, the location is expected to be a greater source of clean energy, increasing its production capacity by nearly 15% compared to its capacity before the project.

    In 2021, too, Denver Water fell short of its goal due in part to work on the hydroelectric facility at Roberts Tunnel. Work to upgrade the hydro facility at the tunnel kicked off in 2019.

    Finally, while Denver Water focuses on offsetting electricity and heat generated by fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas, its net-zero calculations don’t currently count gasoline burned by its fleet vehicles or propane needed at some remote sites.

    “As we make a long-term shift to cleaner energy sources, there will be bumps in the road,” Taft said. “We still, inevitably, will depend on more traditional sources at times and in certain locations. But we are relentlessly pushing to generate more of our own green energy and cut emissions associated with natural gas, coal and vehicles.”

    Learn more about how Denver Water has constructed a low-energy heating and cooling system and its long history of environmental stewardship.

    As part of its effort to cut emissions, Denver Water is beginning the long transition to electric fleet vehicles.

    The utility already has six Ford F-150 hybrid trucks and hopes to test the use of some all-electric pickups in 2023, pending supply chain challenges.

    And as the utility continues to look at other electric vehicle options, it is partnering with analysts at Drive Clean Colorado and Xcel Energy’s Fleet Electrification Advisory Program to help guide the process.

    “Getting this right will take time and a constant push forward,” said Brian Good, Denver Water’s chief administrative officer. “But it is the right thing to do. We are a water utility, and providing reliable, safe, clean water isn’t possible without protecting the natural environment from which it flows.”

    A short rope for Xcel and pumped storage — @BigPivots

    Scenic Unaweep Canyon. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

    Click the link to read the article on the Big Pivots website (Allen Best):

    Xcel Energy asked for permission to spend up to $15 million in investigating whether a pumped-storage hydro project in Unaweep Canyon, south of Grand Junction, is feasible.

    No, said Colorado Public Utility Commission members at a meeting on June 10. You can get $1 million that can be recovered from customers but no more.

    Pumped hydroelectric generation illustrated. Graphic via The Mountain Town News

    The company has filed for a preliminary permit application with Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, putting it in more or less the same stage of the planning process as the Craig-Hayden projects. Which is to say early.

    “I just see this project has having enormous environmental, financial and technological risks,” said Commissioner John Gavan.

    Eric Blank, the commission chairman, had said he would be willing to go for $5 million as there seems to be a gap in funding for development of ideas and before they can be solidified. “It’s a little bit of a chicken-and-egg problem.”

    Megan Gilman, the third commissioner, said she was inclined to reject Xcel’s proposal.

    The canyon does have tremendous vertical relief. It’s a canyon without a river, although some geologists have conjectured it was originally a pathway for the Colorado River.

    Officials explain ‘dead pool’ and how to stop it in #LakeMead — The Las Vegas Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Intake #1 exposed. Photo credit: SNWA

    Click the link to read the article on the Las Vegas Sun website (Jessica Hill). Here’s an excerpt:

    Dead pool is when the water level would get so low in a reservoir that a dam would no longer be able to produce hydropower or deliver water downstream. It’s been a subject of concern for Lake Powell and Lake Mead, which are on the Colorado River and deliver water to more than 36 million people in seven states as well as Mexico. Lake Mead would reach dead pool if the water level dropped to 895 feet, said Patti Aaron, public affairs officer for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Basin Region. As of Wednesday, the level of Lake Mead is 1,049.65 feet, she said.

    “We’re not in danger of hitting dead pool,” Aaron said. “It’s not an imminent problem. It’s not something that’s going to happen tomorrow, and it’s something we don’t think is going to happen at all. We would take every action to not have that happen.”


    Aaron said there were two ways to help Lake Mead: One is better hydrology and more snow melt from the mountains running off into the Colorado, but that’s not in anyone’s control. The second way is through conservation by the Lower Basin states — Nevada, Arizona and California, Aaron said, “leaving water instead of taking it.”

    The Bureau of Reclamation is working with its partners in funding different pilot projects and studies to conserve water, she said. Projects include lining canals so they’re not losing water due to seepage, and desalination techniques.

    “There’s a finite amount of water,” Aaron said, “so we have to look at things like desalination and augmentation.”

    “It’s absolutely urgent that we start thinking now, while there’s time, about how we adjust the [#ColoradoRiver Compact]…in the most careful way” — Bruce Babbit via The Los Angeles Times #COriver #aridfication

    Bruce Babbitt, former secretary of the Interior and Arizona governor, said modifying the Colorado River Compact was not necessary for long-lasting solutions in 2019 but has now acknowledged the need. (Source: Water Education Foundation)

    Click the link to read the article on the Los Angeles Times website (Ian James). Here’s an excerpt:

    Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, who oversaw management of the river under President Clinton, said it’s become clear that the 1922 Colorado River Compact should be revamped to adapt to the reduced amount of water that is available as global warming compounds the 22-year megadrought in the watershed. Babbitt said that a few years ago, he had thought the seven states could get by while leaving the agreement unchanged. But the Colorado River Basin has been drying out so rapidly with rising temperatures, he said, that the pact should be updated to allow the states to proportionally scale back their water use to deal with what scientists describe as the aridification of the West.

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck.

    “While I once thought that these aridification scenarios were kind of abstract and way out in the future, I don’t think that anymore,” Babbitt said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “It’s absolutely urgent that we start thinking now, while there’s time, about how we adjust the compact, the regulations, the necessary reductions, in the most careful way so that we limit the damage, which can really be extreme.”


    Babbitt said problems in the Colorado River Compact include how it was written, based on assumptions of much larger flows, and how certain provisions become unworkable under such dry conditions…One big reason they no longer work, Babbitt said, is that the century-old agreement includes a provision requiring the Upper Basin states to deliver 7.5 million acre-feet per year to the Lower Basin, the largest share of which goes to California. The Upper Basin states face future scenarios in which they would be required to make huge and disproportionate reductions in water use, Babbitt said.

    Colorado River “Beginnings”. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    The marinas at #Colorado’s Blue Mesa Reservoir won’t open this season as the threat of a #water release to #LakePowell looms — Colorado Public Radio #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    A longer walk from the dock to the water is in store for boaters at the Elk Creek marina, Blue Mesa Reservoir. Blue Mesa is being drawn down to feed critically low Lake Powell, as continued dry weather and rising demand deplete the Colorado River.
    (Courtesy photo/National Park Service) August 2021.

    Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Public Radio website (Michael Elizabeth Sakas). Here’s an excerpt:

    Last year, the U.S. Department of the Interior [dropped the reservoir level] 8 feet…from Blue Mesa Reservoir near Gunnison to be sent downstream to Lake Powell. The emergency action was needed to prop up water levels in the nation’s second-largest reservoir, which has hit its lowest level on record amid a 20-year, climate change-fueled megadrought in the Colorado River basin. The drop in water levels led to an early closure of the marinas, cutting six weeks out of the lake’s five-month tourism season. The National Park Service told everyone who stored their boats at the marinas that they had 10 days to remove their boats from the reservoir.

    Federal and state officials said the plan is to leave Blue Mesa alone this year so it can start to recover. But they acknowledge the Colorado reservoir might be tapped again if Lake Powell needs more water to protect its ability to produce hydropower for millions of people across the West. Because of this possibility, the National Park Service has decided not to open Blue Mesa’s marinas this year…

    Loken worries that the closures will hurt the local economy, which depends on recreation and tourism. While the ramp at Elk Creek will remain open, closing the docks means hundreds of people won’t be able to keep larger boats in the water for summer. Loken said many of those boat owners live out of town and don’t want to drive back and forth with their boats each time they want to visit.

    Lake Powell does need more water to protect its ability to keep producing hydropower. This year, the federal government plans to take water out of the Flaming Gorge reservoir on the Utah-Wyoming border while also holding back releases to downstream states. Loken said since projections show the drought will remain and likely worsen with human-caused climate change, people need to change how the Colorado River and its reservoirs are used.

    A fleet of rafts makes its way down the Green River toward its confluence with the Yampa River. Future potential releases of water out of Flaming Gorge Reservoir to boost levels in Lake Powell shape the flows on the Green River, although it’s not clear how the releases may change flow levels. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smity

    Hydropower’s future is clouded by drought, flood and #climatechange – it’s also essential to the US electric grid — The Conversation

    Lake Powell’s water level has been falling amid a two-decade drought. The white ‘bathtub ring’ on the canyon walls marks the decline.
    Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

    Caitlin Grady, Penn State and Lauren Dennis, Penn State

    The water in Lake Powell, one of the nation’s largest reservoirs, has fallen so low amid the Western drought that federal officials are resorting to emergency measures to avoid shutting down hydroelectric power at the Glen Canyon Dam.

    The Arizona dam, which provides electricity to seven states, isn’t the only U.S. hydropower plant in trouble.

    The iconic Hoover Dam, also on the Colorado River, has reduced its water flow and power production. California shut down a hydropower plant at the Oroville Dam for five months because of low water levels in 2021, and officials have warned the same thing could happen in 2022.

    In the Northeast, a different kind of climate change problem has affected hydropower dams – too much rainfall all at once.

    The United States has over 2,100 operational hydroelectric dams, with locations in nearly every state. They play essential roles in their regional power grids. But most were built in the past century under a different climate than they face today.

    As global temperatures rise and the climate continues to change, competition for water will increase, and the way hydropower supply is managed within regions and across the power grid in the U.S. will have to evolve. We study the nation’s hydropower production at a systems level as engineers. Here are three key things to understand about one of the nation’s oldest sources of renewable energy in a changing climate.

    Hydropower can do things other power plants can’t

    Hydropower contributes 6% to 7% of all power generation in the U.S., but it is a crucial resource for managing the U.S. electric grids.

    Because it can quickly be turned on and off, hydroelectric power can help control minute-to-minute supply and demand changes. It can also help power grids quickly bounce back when blackouts occur. Hydropower makes up about 40% of U.S. electric grid facilities that can be started without an additional power supply during a blackout, in part because the fuel needed to generate power is simply the water held in the reservoir behind the turbine.

    People look at a partially rusting turbine set up for display outside. It's about twice the height of the tallest person in the crowd.
    Tourists look at an old turbine that was replaced at the Glen Canyon Dam.
    AP Photo/Felicia Fonseca

    In addition, it can also serve as a giant battery for the grid. The U.S. has over 40 pumped hydropower plants, which pump water uphill into a reservoir and later send it through turbines to generate electricity as needed.

    So, while hydroelectricity represents a small portion of generation, these dams are integral to keeping the U.S. power supply flowing.

    Climate change affects hydropower in different ways in different regions

    Globally, drought has already decreased hydropower generation. How climate change affects hydropower in the U.S. going forward will depend in large part on each plants’ location.

    In areas where melting snow affects the river flow, hydropower potential is expected to increase in winter, when more snow falls as rain, but then decrease in summer when less snowpack is left to become meltwater. This pattern is expected to occur in much of the western U.S., along with worsening multiyear droughts that could decrease some hydropower production, depending on the how much storage capacity the reservoir has.

    The Northeast has a different challenge. There, extreme precipitation that can cause flooding is expected to increase. More rain can increase power generation potential, and there are discussions about retrofitting more existing dams to produce hydropower. But since many dams there are also used for flood control, the opportunity to produce extra energy from that increasing rainfall could be lost if water is released through an overflow channel.

    In the southern U.S., decreasing precipitation and intensified drought are expected, which will likely result in decreased hydropower production.

    Some grid operators face bigger challenges

    The effect these changes have on the nation’s power grid will depend on how each part of the grid is managed.

    Agencies known as balancing authorities manage their region’s electricity supply and demand in real time.

    The largest balancing authority in terms of hydroelectric generation is the Bonneville Power Administration in the Northwest. It can generate around 83,000 megawatt-hours of electricity annually across 59 dams, primarily in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. The Grand Coulee Dam complex alone can produce enough power for 1.8 million homes.

    Much of this area shares a similar climate and will experience climate change in much the same way in the future. That means that a regional drought or snowless year could hit many of the Bonneville Power Administration’s hydropower producers at the same time. Researchers have found that this region’s climate impacts on hydropower present both a risk and opportunity for grid operators by increasing summer management challenges but also lowering winter electricity shortfalls.

    Balancing authorities and the number of hydropower plants in each.
    Lauren Dennis, CC BY-ND

    In the Midwest, it’s a different story. The Midcontinent Independent System Operator, or MISO, has 176 hydropower plants across an area 50% larger than that of Bonneville, from northern Minnesota to Louisiana.

    Since its hydropower plants are more likely to experience different climates and regional effects at different times, MISO and similarly broad operators have the capability to balance out hydropower deficits in one area with generation in other areas.

    Understanding these regional climate effects is increasingly essential for power supply planning and protecting grid security as balancing authorities work together to keep the lights on.

    More change is coming

    Climate change is not the only factor that will affect hydropower’s future. Competing demands already influence whether water is allocated for electricity generation or other uses such as irrigation and drinking.

    Laws and water allocation also shift over time and change how water is managed through reservoirs, affecting hydroelectricity. The increase in renewable energy and the potential to use some dams and reservoirs for energy storage might also change the equation.

    The importance of hydropower across the U.S. power grid means most dams are likely here to stay, but climate change will change how these plants are used and managed.The Conversation

    Caitlin Grady, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Research Associate in the Rock Ethics Institute, Penn State and Lauren Dennis, Ph.D. Student in Civil Engineering and Climate Science, Penn State

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    As #LakePowell dries up, the US turns to creative accounting for a short-term fix — The #Water Desk #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Click the link to read the article on The Water Desk website (Jake Bittle, Grist). Here’s an excerpt:

    A new agreement calls for Western states to leave their drinking water in the reservoir — and act as if they didn’t.

    Late last week, the states agreed to forfeit their water from Lake Powell in order to ensure that the reservoir can still produce power. The deal puts a finger in the metaphorical dike, postponing an inevitable reckoning with the years-long drought that has parched the Colorado River — and a wrenching tradeoff between power access and water access for millions. It does so, in part, through an unusual act of hydrological accounting.

    The deal has two parts. The first and more straightforward part is that the federal government will move 500,000 acre-feet of water (about 162 billion gallons) from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir into Lake Powell, bumping up water levels in the latter body. Flaming Gorge, which stretches across Wyoming and Utah, is mostly used for water recreation, so the immediate effects of the transfer will be minimal. The feds could do more of these water transfers later in the year if things get worse, drawing on water from other nearby reservoirs.

    The second part is more complicated — and less helpful. In ordinary circumstances, the Bureau of Reclamation releases water from Lake Powell into an even larger reservoir called Lake Mead, from which it then flows to households and farms across the Southwest. As part of the deal, the states that rely on Mead water are agreeing to leave about 480,000 acre-feet of that water in Lake Powell, thus lowering the water levels in Mead. (Reclamation already announced earlier this year that it would delay the release of 350,000 acre-feet of water in Powell in anticipation of spring snow runoff.)

    The #Climate Fight Isn’t Lost. Here Are 10 Ways to Win — Rolling Stone Magazine #ActOnClimate

    Click the link to read the article on the Rolling Stone website (Jeff Goodell). Here’s an excerpt:

    The clock is running on the climate crisis, but we have the tools and knowledge — and the crickets — that we need

    The climate crisis is here, and heartbreak is all around us. The early promise of dramatic action from President Biden is sinking in the old mud bog of fossil-fuel politics. Meanwhile, despite 40 years of warnings from scientists and the decline in the cost of clean energy, carbon pollution is still increasing and the world is heating up as fast as ever. The final sentence of last February’s U.N.’s latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on the impacts of that warming is stark and unequivocal: “Climate change is a threat to human well-being and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a livable future.” Or as U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres put it after an IPCC report on the mitigation of climate change was released this month: “Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness.”


    1. Tax carbon.
    In February, Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse took to the Senate floor for his 280th “Time to Wake Up!” speech about the climate crisis. The centerpiece of Whitehouse’s plan was the need for a tax on fossil fuels. It is an argument that speaks to a truism of economics: to make something scarce, tax it…

    Leaf charging at the Lionshead parking facility in Vail September 30, 2021.

    2. Electrify everything.
    In the U.S. there are roughly 290 million cars and trucks, 70 million fossil-fueled furnaces, 60 million fossil-fueled water heaters, 20 million gas dryers, and 50 million gas stoves. What if all those were electrified? Saul Griffith, an Australian American engineer and author of Electrify: An Optimist’s Playbook for Our Clean Energy Future, thinks electrification can reduce 80 percent of U.S. emissions by 2035…

    A solar parking facility at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey, with an output of 8 megawatts of electricity.

    3. Go local with solar.
    It’s now obvious: The future is solar on homes, solar on apartment buildings, solar on malls, solar on parking lots, solar on fast-food joints, burrito stands, and strip clubs. With the sun, small is beautiful. Wasted space becomes a platform for power generation. With solar, cost has always been a problem, but that is ending now as the price of solar panels has plummeted over the past decade. Nobody pretends that you are going to make steel from solar, or that it will be the best way to generate power in every situation,but it is clean and reliable and won’t go down in a blackout like the one in 2021 that left 11 millions Texans freezing in the dark for days and was responsible for as many as 700 deaths…

    Xcel Energy proposes to close two of its coal-fired generating units at Comanche, indicated by smokestacks at right. The stack at left, for the plant completed in 2010, provides energy for a portion of Aspen and for the Roaring Fork and Eagle valleys. In the foreground is the largest solar farm east of the Rocky Mountains at its opening. Photo/Allen Best

    4. Buy out coal plants.
    Coal is the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, responsible for 30 percent of global carbon emissions. The biggest coal burner is China, which consumes more coal than the rest of the world combined. Here in the U.S., coal is slowly being displaced by cheap gas, wind, and solar. But there are still 179 active coal plants, generating 20 percent of U.S. electricity. Shutting them down and replacing them with cleaner, cheaper energy is the fastest way to lower carbon emissions and slow the climate crisis. “The transition beyond coal is inevitable,” says Justin Guay, director for global climate strategy at the Sunrise Project. “But the timeline on which it happens isn’t.”


    Denver School Strike for Climate, September 20, 2019.

    5. Start telling the truth about the climate crisis.
    How much is that $2 million house on the beach going to be worth when there’s an octopus swimming through the living room? What’s going to happen to all those refineries on the Gulf Coast as the demand for oil plummets? Banks and corporations face huge financial risks as the age of climate disruption accelerates. One just-published report found around $343 billion in weather- and climate-related economic losses in 2021 alone, the third-costliest year on record. A 2019 study concluded that 215 of the world’s largest companies face nearly $1 trillion in climate-related risk as soon as 2024. Very little of this is disclosed in corporate financial reports. “The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare just how vulnerable the United States is to sudden, catastrophic shocks,” Sarah Bloom Raskin, Biden’s nominee to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, wrote in The New York Times. “Climate change poses the next big threat.”


    Denver Water’s planned new administration building via the Denver Business Journal

    6. Build denser, fairer, more humane cities.
    Urban life is far gentler on the planet than suburban life. People who live in cities spend less time stuck in traffic in their SUVs; they have better access to local food; they live in buildings that are more efficient. But cities need a climate upgrade too: more bikes, better public transit, more green space…

    Bears Ears Protest in Salt Lake December 2, 2017. Photo credit: Mother Jones Magazine

    7. Get loud and hit them where it hurts.
    The biggest roadblock to climate action has always been the cowardice and complicity of our political leaders. For many, the lack of significant accomplishments at last year’s Glasgow climate talks and the failure of Biden’s Build Back Better agenda have been a brutal awakening. “Activists have become jaded because there’s been a lot of promises from politicians without a lot of action to back it up,” says Dana Fisher, an environmental-activism expert at the University of Maryland and author of American Resistance. “A lot of young people are looking at other tactics now.”


    Graphic credit: The Nature Conservancy

    8. Fund small-scale geo-engineering research.
    Maybe Dr. Evil wants to deliberately fuck with the Earth’s climate, but nobody else does. Nevertheless, it’s probably inevitable, given the risks we face. There are many potential forms of geoengineering, from brightening clouds to stabilizing glaciers, but the technology that gets the most attention is solar engineering, which amounts to scattering particles in the stratosphere to reflect away sunlight and cool the Earth. Scientists know it works because it’s essentially what volcanoes do (particles injected into the stratosphere from Mount Pinatubo, which erupted in 1991, cooled the planet 0.6 C for more than a year, until they rained out of the sky)…

    Deep-fried house crickets (Acheta domesticus) at a market in Thailand. By Takeaway – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

    9. Eat crickets!
    America’s (and, increasingly, the world’s) appetite for meat is barbecuing the planet. Livestock eat up a lot of land, drive deforestation, and are carbon-intensive in their own right. Without reforming industrial agriculture and reducing meat consumption, it will be virtually impossible to limit warming to 2 C, much less 1.5 C…

    Protest against Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota. Photo: Dio Cramer

    10. Fight and win the culture war.
    Much has been said about the failure of Big Media to cover the climate crisis. It’s too often pigeonholed as an environmental issue rather than a slow-rolling planet-wide catastrophe. Or it’s infused with “both-sidesism,” in which journalists are duped into the false idea that there is any real debate about the fundamentals of climate science. Or it’s just not discussed at all. When Hurricane Ida slammed into the Gulf Coast late last summer, six of the biggest commercial TV networks in the U.S. — ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, NBC, and MSNBC — ran 774 stories about Ida, an analysis by the watchdog group Media Matters found. Only 34 of those stories mentioned climate change. Mark Hertsgaard, the executive director of Covering Climate Now, an initiative dedicated to improving climate reporting, calls it “media malpractice.”

    Stumbling Toward “Day Zero” on the #ColoradoRiver: Urgent action needed from seven states and feds to avoid #water crisis — Audubon #COriver #aridification

    Common Raven. Photo: Doug Kliewer/Audubon Photography Awards

    Click the link to read the call to action on the Audubon website (Jennifer Pitt):

    The Colorado River Basin is inching ever closer to “Day Zero,” a term first used in Cape Town, South Africa when they anticipated the day in 2018 that taps would run dry. Lakes Powell and Mead, the Colorado River’s two enormous reservoirs, were full in 2000, storing more than four years of the river’s average annual flow. For more than two decades water users have been sipping at that supply, watching them decline. Long-term drought and climate change is making this issue potentially catastrophic.

    Today the entire Colorado River reservoir storage system is 2/3 empty.

    Moreover, federal officials project that within two years, the water level in Lake Powell could be so low that it would be impossible for water to flow through the dam’s turbine intakes. When that happens, it’s clear the dam will no longer generate hydropower, but it’s also possible the dam will not release any water at all. That’s because the only other way for water to move through the dam when the water is low is a series of outlet tubes that were not designed, and have never been tested, for long-term use.

    What happens if little to no water can be released from Lake Powell? Water supply risks multiply for everyone who uses water downstream. That includes residents of big cities like Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles, and farmers and ranchers in Arizona, California and Mexico who grow the majority of our nation’s winter produce, as well as numerous Native American tribes. Some of these water users have alternative supplies, but some—including Las Vegas residents, Colorado River tribes and most farmers—do not. Day Zero for these water users might not happen immediately as Lake Mead, the reservoir fed by Lake Powell still has some water in it. But without flows from upstream to replenish it, Lake Mead would also be at risk of no longer being able to release water.

    There is also the river itself. Think of it—no water flowing through the Grand Canyon. No water flowing in the Colorado River for hundreds of miles downstream from Hoover Dam. That’s an ecological disaster in the making for 400 bird species and a multitude of other wildlife, exceeding the 20th century devastation of the Colorado River Delta.

    In recent days, state and federal officials have announced plans to address the immediate crisis. These plans will help, but only to avert the immediate danger looming over the basin for the current year. They do nothing to decrease the unrelenting risks of Colorado River water supplies and demands out of balance, because all they do is move water from one place to another. The federal plan to reduce water releases from the Glen Canyon Dam will help this year, as Lake Powell will hold onto water that would otherwise have flowed downstream to Lake Mead. Notably, Lower Basin water users will calculate their uses as if the water was in Lake Mead anyway, delaying deeper cuts and further depleting the reservoir. The Upper Basin states also plan to release additional water from Flaming Gorge reservoir upriver in Wyoming to increase the inflow into Lake Powell. This too will help Powell, but it will reduce the supply in Flaming Gorge reservoir. The plan acknowledges this supply may not be recovered unless and until storage at Lake Powell considerably improves. Both of these plans will move water and help protect the Glen Canyon Dam’s operations in the near-term.

    Moving water does not address the fundamental challenge in the Colorado River Basin and does not offer any real certainty for water users or the river itself in any corner of the basin. Colorado River water demands exceed supplies. Audubon knows that fundamentally, because we work on restoring habitat in the Colorado River Delta, where the river has not flowed regularly for half a century. With major reservoirs only one third full, plans that continue to drain them are not sustainable plans.

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck.

    Climate change is drying out the Colorado River. In the last two decades, the river’s flow has been 20 percent less than the average flow recorded in the 20th century. Hoping for a rainy season won’t fix this. Today’s water supply conditions are likely to be among the best we see over the coming decades.

    What’s needed now, urgently, is for federal and state water managers to work, in partnership with tribes and other stakeholders, to take the steps necessary to build confidence in the enduring management of the Colorado River. This will require focus and dedicated resources to develop and implement plans that put water demands into balance with supplies. That means moving beyond year-to-year reactions to imminent risks to engage in planning that promotes water conservation. Water conservation means using less water, preferably managed in a way that both respects our system of water rights and supports society’s 21st century values, including economic stability for urban and rural communities, allowances for Native American tribes to realize benefit from their water rights, and reliable water supplies for nature.

    People and birds rely on the Colorado River, and Audubon will continue to work with partners to advocate for and implement solutions. We know what works. Water conservation pilots implemented throughout the basin and across municipal and agricultural sectors have been successful. Investments in infrastructure upgrades have durably made water uses more efficient, and investments in habitat restoration have benefited ecosystems and the birds that rely on them. Flexible water sharing mechanisms have modernized water uses while protecting legal water rights and helped Tribes secure benefits. There is no time like the present to begin implementing these solutions at scale. They should be the foundation for new rules for how we use and protect the Colorado River.

    Colorado River “Beginnings”. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    It’s official – the top of Intake No. 1 is now visible and the low lake level pumping station is now operational — Southern #Nevada #Water Authority #LakeMead #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Las Vegas Lake Mead intake schematic, courtesy SNWA.
    SNWA intake #1 exposed April 2022. Photo credit: SNWA
    Intake #1 exposed. Photo credit: SNWA
    Intake #1 exposed. Photo credit: SNWA

    Click the link to go to the SNWA Low Level Pumping Station website.

    Challenge at Glen Canyon: What’s at stake in a shrinking #LakePowell — @Land_Desk #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    The back of Glen Canyon Dam circa 1964, not long after the reservoir had begun filling up. Here the water level is above dead pool, meaning water can be released via the river outlets, but it is below minimum power pool, so water cannot yet enter the penstocks to generate electricity. Bureau of Reclamation photo.

    Click the link to read the article on The Land Desk website (Jonathan Thompson):

    Late last summer, on a work trip through the Southwest, I sought refuge from triple-digit temperatures in an air-conditioned Page, Arizona, motel room, offered at a discount because, I presume, the hotel and motel companies built way too many rooms for a declining number of visitors.

    As I’m prone to do when in a hotel room, I flipped on the television. A bona fide, decades-old disaster movie, in the vein of Airport or Avalanche, played on the vast, flat screen. A dam—and everyone downstream—were in peril, threatened by hubris, Nature, faulty weather forecasting, and, most ominously, cavitation. The heroes were played not by Burt Lancaster or Jean Seberg, but by themselves—mustachioed, wire-rim-glasses-wearing engineers. Real ones.

    It wasn’t a feature flick after all, but The Challenge at Glen Canyon, a Bureau of Reclamation-produced documentary about a real disaster, narrowly averted, that played out in the summer of 1983, when a snow-swollen Lake Powell jeopardized one of the nation’s largest dams.

    The narrative was certainly enthralling. But maybe more stunning were the images of of a Lake Powell full to the brim, water nearly lapping at the crest of the dam. It provided an eerie contrast to the scene outside my hotel room window: the hulking figure of Glen Canyon Dam and, behind it, the pale bathtub ring on the sandstone indicating just how far the water levels had dropped since the documentary was made.

    Another disaster is underway at Glen Canyon Dam, a slow-motion one, caused by too little water rather than too much. Yet in a bizarre twist, some of the potential effects may mirror those in 1983. Now Bureau of Reclamation engineers once again are scrambling to keep reservoir levels from falling further in hopes of preserving the dam’s hydropower production capacity—and maybe even the dam, itself.

    I watched the documentary to its end, switched off the television, and gazed back out the window—the surreal greenish-brown grass on the golf course, the transmission infrastructure sprouting from red rock, the still water of the reservoir. I thought I could see Lake Powell’s murky green water evaporating into the smoky blue sky.

    I’m no fan of dams. They turn living rivers into stagnant puddles, kill fish, drown canyons and communities. Glen Canyon may be the most heartbreaking of all. So much was lost when the tempestuous waters of the Colorado backed up behind it into countless canyons and coves, inundating a million marvels, cultural sites, monkey-flower strewn alcoves.

    And yet, from a more pragmatic viewpoint, I understand Lake Powell’s value, not just as a big water bank, but also as an indispensable tool for grid operators. Hydropower was chosen to run the first electricity grids for a reason: It’s reliable and flexible and you don’t have to mine or burn anything.

    Glen Canyon Dam’s eight giant turbines have a generating capacity of about 1,300 megawatts when the reservoir is full, on par with a large coal-burning power plant, which act as a “baseload” power source, like a nuclear or coal power plant, cranking out a steady stream of juice delivered to some 3.2 million customers, including utilities, tribal nations, and federal agencies. Even more critical—and lucrative—the dam’s power output is highly adjustable, making it ideal for “following the load,” or ramping up or down quickly to meet a spike in energy demand or a void in generation if another power plant goes down (1). Glen Canyon Dam electricity sales generate as much as $200 million annually—the only direct form of revenue from the dam or reservoir, since the water is not sold—a portion of which is used to fund endangered species recovery, salinity control and water studies on the Colorado River.

    With that in mind, the 710-foot tall dam was designed so that all of the water routinely flowing downstream from Lake Powell goes through eight penstocks, or big pipes leading to the turbines. That way all of the released water generates electricity, and therefore revenue. The dam is also equipped with “river outlets,” positioned below the penstock openings, to allow water to be routed around the turbines if needed or for larger releases than the penstocks, alone, can handle. There are also two spillways, giant tunnels carved through the sandstone cliffs on either side of the dam, for rare instances when the water level exceeds “full pool” and needs to be spilled. But neither the outlets nor the spillways were designed for long-term, continuous use. In fact, wrote W.L. Busho, a longtime PR person for the Bureau of Reclamation, “a well-managed reservoir should almost never spill.”

    Construction on the dam began in 1956 and it started backing up water in 1963. It took 17 years to fill Lake Powell, finally reaching its storage capacity in 1980. From then on, dam managers would release just enough water during the winter to meet downstream obligations and to leave enough room in the reservoir for the projected spring runoff. But during the winter of 1982-83, they misread the signs.

    For most of the winter, snowfall throughout the 108,000 square mile watershed that feeds Lake Powell was just a little above average. Then an especially robust El Niño kicked in, and in April and May snow piled up in the mountains to depths not seen since the early 1950s. The Basin-wide snowpack finally peaked in late May, several weeks later than normal. Then temperatures shot up suddenly, accompanied by heavy, snow-melting June rain that put nearly every stream and river in the region well above flood stage.

    Caught off guard by the deluge, dam operators had not left enough room in the reservoir to contain the sudden surge of Colorado River inflows, which reached 120,000 cubic feet per second—about 10 times the volume of an average spring runoff. Dam operators cranked open the penstocks, sending about 29,000 cfs through the turbines, as well as the river outlets for an additional 15,000 cfs. It wasn’t nearly enough. So, with water literally lapping at the crest of the dam, operators opened the left spillway for the first time ever, sending another 32,000 cfs through the concrete-lined tunnel, which then shot out of the cliff hundreds of feet below to spectacular effect (and giving river runners a wild ride). For a day or two, all seemed fine. Then, things got scary, as described by T.J. Wolf in a harrowing feature in High Country News:

    “If you were on the bridge below the canyon that spans the dam that June morning … you would have seen a sight terrifying enough to put the fear of God into anyone, but especially into an engineer. You would have seen the steady sweep of the spillway mouths suddenly waver, choke, cough and then vomit forth half-digested gobbets of steel-reinforced concrete (bad, very bad), spew out blood-red water (My God, it’s into bedrock), and finally disgorge great red chunks of sandstone into the frothy chaos below the dam. You would have seen the Colorado River going home, carving rock, moving deeper, as it has always done.”

    The problem was caused by cavitation: collapsing vapor bubbles in the water sent shockwaves through the tunnel’s innards, tearing through the concrete and then the sandstone, potentially threatening the dam, itself. Engineers had to shut off the flow into the spillways in order to assess and repair the damage inside. That was easier said than done: The lake was so full the water was spilling over the top of the spillway gates. Engineers—the stars of the 1983 disaster documentary—scrambled to find a solution.

    Peak streamflow levels at Lee’s Ferry, just below Glen Canyon Dam. Before the dam, 100,000 cubic feet per second was common. Source: USGS.

    When officials from the seven Colorado River states got together in 1922 to parcel out the river’s water, they assumed that some 15 million acre feet of water passed by the Lee’s Ferry dividing point each year, on average, based on a couple decades of streamflow measurements. When Mexico joined the party they simply added another 1.5 million acre feet. This turned out to be a significant overestimate: Tree ring studies later found that the historic average was closer to 14 million acre feet or even lower, which amounts to hundreds of billions of gallons less than was parceled out to the states.

    For decades, this wasn’t cause for too much alarm. After all, that’s what dams are for, to store up water during the soggy years to carry users through the dry times. While this became more challenging as the Southwest’s population and water consumption boomed2, it generally worked. The bountiful 1980s filled Lake Powell to the brim. An ensuing string of dry years drew the surface level down nearly 100 feet, but it quickly rebounded when the snows returned in the mid-1990s. Glen Canyon Dam was doing its job, storing water while also churning out gobs of power to keep a burgeoning number of air-conditioners humming.

    But over the last two decades, the dam’s storage and power-generation capacities have been compromised as climate change-induced drought shrinks the reservoir behind it. Lake Powell’s surface level has trended downward since 2001, with a brief respite in 2011. Last July it dropped below 3,555 feet—or 153 feet below the 1983 peak—the lowest since it was filling up in the 1960s and ‘70s. Since then it has continued to plummet and in mid-April appeared to level out at 3,522 feet.

    Power output at Glen Canyon Dam, 1980-2005. Note how the abundant water years of 1983-1986 were also big power years. Source: Argonne National Laboratory

    As water levels drop the hydropower “head” does, too, thereby decreasing the potential energy of the falling water, which in turn lowers the generating capacity of the turbines. In other words, as Lake Powell shrinks, more water must be released to generate the same amount of power, which further lowers the lake level, and so on. In the 1990s, the dam produced as much as 7,000 gigawatt hours per year, enough to power nearly 600,000 homes. Last year, it was down to just 3,000 gigawatt hours. This phenomenon has forced Western Area Power Administration, the federal governmental organization that markets Glen Canyon Dam’s power at lower-than-market rates, to purchase more expensive power from the open market, driving up its customers’ costs.

    Output capacity of the dam’s turbines decreases in direct proportion to the reservoir’s surface elevation. As Lake Powell Shrinks, the dam generates less power. Source: Argonne National Laboratory.

    But this chronic decline in generating capacity is about to become more acute—and potential fodder for a new disaster documentary. If the reservoir’s level drops another 33 feet, to the 3,490-foot minimum power pool level, air could get entrained in the turbine-feeding penstocks, wreaking all kinds of havoc. At that point, or perhaps even sooner, operators have no choice but to stop sending water through the turbines, killing power generation and depriving the grid of enough electricity annually to power about a quarter of a million Arizona homes. It would also drain between $100 million and $200 million annually from dam electricity sales

    That would force WAPA to purchase more expensive power, including electricity generated from natural gas or even coal, to supply its millions of customers. The average utility customer might not even notice the dollar or two this adds to their monthly bill, but it could amount to a substantial price hike for the tribal nations that rely on WAPA for most or all of their power. The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority’s yearly power bill could jump by as much as $1.3 million, according to a 2016 consultant’s study, and nine other tribes would also see significant cost increases.

    Equally worrisome is how grid operators will fill the generation void left when the dam goes offline. New wind and solar power, paired with batteries or other energy storage, can replace some or all of the baseload power. But any extra generation capacity is going to be in high demand as big coal and nuclear plants retire in the next few years. Meanwhile, solar and wind can’t follow loads like a hydroelectric dam, so utilities are likely to turn to greenhouse gas-emitting natural gas “peaker” plants instead.

    Then there’s the impact to the dam itself. Once the turbines are shut down, the only way water can be released is via the concrete river outlets, also known as “jet tubes” because they spray water into the riverbed like giant firehoses. These tunnels have only been used for short stints during the 1983 and 1984 high water years and for experimental high-flow releases intended to mimic natural river conditions and redistribute sediment in the Grand Canyon. No one knows how long they can be run at full throttle before cavitation begins.

    “Glen Canyon Dam was not envisioned to operate solely through the outworks for an extended period of time,” wrote Tanya Trujillo, the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for water and science, in a letter to Colorado River state governors earlier this month, “and operating at this low lake level increases risks to water delivery and potential adverse impacts to downstream resources and infrastructure.” If levels drop much lower, the City of Page and the LeChee Chapter of the Navajo Nation would lose their Lake Powell drinking water supply.

    “Glen Canyon Dam facilities face unprecedented operational reliability challenges,” Trujillo added. In other words, maybe it will all be fine. Or, maybe, it will be like 1983 all over again.

    Cavitation at the Glen Canyon Dam, the cause of the emergency in 1983 via Flow Science.

    The Challenge at Glen Canyon ends on a triumphant note, major-chord music blaring in the background. The engineers jerry rigged a fix for the spillways, extending the gates’ heights with plywood, then steel, plates. They held until the raging Colorado River calmed down and the crisis was averted. Inside the tunnel workers found huge fissures in the concrete and rock and set about building an aeration slot along the tunnel floor to prevent cavitation in the future.

    The multi-million-dollar upgrades3 completed after the near-disaster, the narrator says, marked, “a victory for the human spirit, for the leaders who cut through the red tape … for the men and women who worked long hours and did the job. The American people who own this dam and Lake Powell can be confident that when the flood waters run down the Colorado, Glen Canyon Dam will be ready.”

    The engineers are scrambling again, this time hoping to delay the dip into minimum power pool territory. Last fall the Bureau of Reclamation upped releases from upstream dams to try to keep Powell’s levels from dropping into the 35-foot buffer zone, draining Western Colorado’s Blue Mesa Reservoir to all-time lows in the process. Although the move failed to stop Lake Powell’s decline, it did slow it down, giving water managers more time to consider their options. This winter and spring they released less water than normal from Glen Canyon Dam, hoping to make up for it during spring runoff.

    Nevertheless, outflows consistently have exceeded inflows, evaporation continues, snowpack is below median levels in the Upper Colorado watershed, and lake levels have dropped a total of 41 feet over the last year. Now water officials are exploring ways to modify the dam to enable it to continue producing power at lower levels—possibly by adding turbines to the river outlets—a sort of modern version of the plywood spillway gates of yore. And in the aforementioned letter, Trujillo floated the possibility of cutting overall releases this year to just 7 million acre feet, about 1 million less than normal, and a half-million less than planned this year, which would then cause Lake Mead’s levels to drop even further and could spur further cutbacks for downstream water users.

    Unlike the floods of 1983 and 1984, the real disaster looming over the region today—human caused climate change and long-term aridification—is not going to subside in a month or year or even a decade. The question now is not whether Glen Canyon Dam will be prepared, it will not. Lake Powell will reach the dreaded dead pool, when the lake falls so low water cannot be released except by pumping it out or re-opening the tunnels excavated to divert the river during dam construction. Maybe it will happen in five years, maybe 20, but it’s coming. The real question is whether we, the residents of the West who rely on the Colorado River—and Glen Canyon Dam—for so much, will be ready for the inevitable.

    (1) During the 1980s dam operators had ample leeway to “follow the load” by modulating the flow of water through the turbines. This occasionally caused huge fluctuations in the flow of water through the Grand Canyon. On one July day in 1989, for example, about 3,471 cubic feet of water per second was running through the dam at 5 a.m. By 3 p.m., it had jumped to 29,000 cfs—the maximum flow through the turbines—to provide juice to the Southwest’s power grid to keep all those air conditioners running. If you’re a river runner, you can probably imagine how disruptive—and even terrifying—this might have been to boaters in the Grand Canyon. In the early ‘80s dam operators wanted to maximize the potential for following the load by also installing turbines in the river outlets so they could generate even more power by releasing more water. The proposal was shot down and set off a string of events that ultimately led to significant changes in the way the dam is operated, including minimum and maximum release rates and maximum fluctuation rates, thereby limiting its capacity as a “peaker” plant.

    (2) Water demand on the Colorado has increased substantially since the Colorado River Compact was signed, obviously, and continued to climb up until the late 1990s, when it plateaued and even dropped with the onset of the current megadrought in the early 2000s.

    Consumptive water uses and losses on the Upper Colorado River Basin. Source: USBR

    (3) The estimated cost to repair both spillways was about $30 million, according to one estimate, but this was offset by the $34 million in electricity sales revenue generated by running the turbines at full throttle for a good part of the summer.

    New forecast: #LakePowell electricity production to drop, as officials race to boost #water levels — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    A high desert thunderstorm lights up the sky behind Glen Canyon Dam — Photo USBR

    Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Jerd Smith):

    Electricity produced at Lake Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam, which serves some 50 Colorado utilities, and dozens of others in the Colorado River Basin, has been cut in half by the 20-year drought, with power levels over the next two years projected to be 47% lower than normal, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

    “We’re going to be generating less than we have in quite some time. It will be among the lowest years of generation ever,” said Nick Williams, power manager for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Upper Colorado River Region in an interview last week.

    The grim forecast comes as water officials race to bolster Lake Powell’s water levels. On April 8, Reclamation announced it would likely keep more water in Lake Powell, reducing releases from the planned 7.5 million acre-feet to 7 million acre-feet, a move that could trigger emergency water cutbacks in Arizona, California and Nevada.

    Hydroelectric Dam

    At the same time, electric utilities across the West are looking for other green power options and hoping that hydropower production won’t stop altogether. According to Reclamation, there is a 27% chance that Powell will still stop generating electricity completely over the next four years.

    “If Glen Canyon Dam ceases to operate, we are going to have to replace that power somewhere else and it will have a bigger carbon footprint,” said Bryan Hannegan, CEO of Holy Cross Energy, which buys Lake Powell’s hydropower to serve customers in Western Colorado.

    The picture was much different 60 years ago, when the giant storage reservoir on the Colorado River was filling, its electricity helping power the West and the revenue from its power sales helping fund endangered fish protection programs across the Colorado River Basin.

    Back then, Hannegan said, “We made an assumption that our WAPA (Western Area Power Administration) allocation would be firm, reliable and always there. Now, though, we know that it’s not firm, it’s not reliable, and it’s coming at a much higher cost.”

    Late last fall WAPA, which operates the electric grid and distributes the power to utilities, raised rates 30% to cover reductions in power revenue. Few expected to ever see this drop in hydropower production, let alone consider what to do if Glen Canyon were to cease electricity production entirely.

    “The forecast is changing daily and there are still a lot of variables,” said Lisa Meiman, a spokeswoman for WAPA. ”But it is concerning. This is the big warning bell.”

    The drop in the power forecast comes as Upper Colorado River Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming prepare to finalize a new drought operations plan for the giant river system. The draft plan is expected to be released next week, according to Becki Bryant, a spokeswoman for Reclamation’s Upper Colorado River Region.

    The critical issue is how to maintain the lake at 3,525, which marks an elevation that is the top of the liquid buffer zone designed to protect the lake’s mighty electricity turbines.

    Last July, to protect the 3,525 buffer zone, Reclamation ordered emergency water releases from three reservoirs in the Upper Colorado River Basin. Utah’s Flaming Gorge, Colorado’s Blue Mesa and New Mexico’s Navajo.

    Despite those releases, Powell dropped below 3,525 last month, hitting 3,523, another historic drought landmark.

    Though the 2022 forecast isn’t expected to be finalized until later this month, water officials expect that more water will have to be released from Upper Basin storage reservoirs this summer because inflows into the lake from the drought-stressed Colorado River are expected to be well below average again, in the 60% to 80% range.

    Becky Mitchell is director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state’s lead water planning agency. She also sits on the Upper Colorado River Commission. Mitchell declined to discuss the pending drought operations plan. But in a statement, she said, “The Upper Basin States are working collaboratively with the Bureau of Reclamation to draft a 2022 Drought Response Operations Plan outlining potential releases from Upper Basin reservoirs in an effort to protect critical elevations at Lake Powell. The Upper Basin reservoirs have already provided 161,000 acre-feet of water pursuant to the ’imminent need‘ provision of the Drought Response Operations Agreement, including 36,000 acre-feet from Blue Mesa Reservoir in Colorado. Water availability, appropriate timing of releases, and impacts on other resources are all being considered as the 2022 Plan is being drafted.”

    Across the region, water utilities are in high-alert mode, preparing for another dry year on the Colorado River and holding hope that the Upper Basin reservoirs can be protected as long as possible from large-scale drought releases.

    “The forecast isn’t great,” said Kyle Whitaker, Colorado River Manager for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, one of the largest diverters of water in the headwaters region of the river.

    “It’s better than last year, but we’ll just have to see what the next two to four weeks holds for precipitation.”

    At the same time, power producers are gearing up to craft a fallback plan for extending hydropower production at Glen Canyon Dam if water levels continue to fall.

    “We have to take a strong look at what we will do in the unlikely event that Lake Powell stops producing hydropower,” said WAPA’s Meiman. “It’s not a hypothetical situation anymore.”

    Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at or @jerd_smith.

    In #drought-stricken West, officials weigh emergency actions — The Associated Press #LakePowell #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    A rare sight: Water shoots out of Glen Canyon Dam’s river outlets or “jet tubes” during a high-flow experimental release in 2013. Typically all of the dam’s outflows go through penstocks to turn the turbines on the hydroelectric plant. The outlets are only used during these experiments, meant to redistribute sediment downstream, and when lake levels get too high. Spillways are used as a last, last resort. The river outlets may be used again in the not so distant future: Once Lake Powell’s surface level drops below 3,490 feet, or minimum power pool, water can no longer be run through the turbines and can only be sent to the river below via the outlets. This is cause for concern because the river outlets were not built for long-term use. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

    Click the link to read the article on the Associated Press website (Felicia Fonseca). Here’s an excerpt:

    Officials had hoped snowmelt would buoy Lake Powell on the Arizona-Utah border to ensure [Glen Canyon Dam] could continue to supply power. But snow is already melting, and hotter-than-normal temperatures and prolonged drought are further shrinking the lake. The Interior Department has proposed holding back water in the lake to maintain Glen Canyon Dam’s ability to generate electricity amid what it said were the driest conditions in the region in more than 1,200 years.

    “The best available science indicates that the effects of climate change will continue to adversely impact the basin,” Tanya Trujillo, the Interior’s assistant secretary for water and science wrote to seven states in the basin [April 8, 2022].

    These turbines at Lake Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam are at risk of becoming inoperable should levels at Powell fall below what’s known as minimum power pool due to declining flows in the Colorado River. Photo courtesy U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

    Trujillo asked for feedback on the proposal to keep 480,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Powell…In the Colorado River basin, Glen Canyon Dam is the mammoth of power production, delivering electricity to about 5 million customers in seven states — Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. As Lake Powell falls, the dam becomes less efficient. At 3,490 feet, it can’t produce power…

    The Pacific Northwest, and the Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico and Texas are facing similar strains on water supplies…

    Water managers in the basin states — Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico and Colorado — are evaluating the proposal. The Interior Department has set an April 22 deadline for feedback.

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map April 14, 2022 via the NRCS.

    Putin’s war shows autocracies and #FossilFuels go hand in hand. Here’s how to tackle both — The Guardian #ActOnClimatae

    Denver School Strike for Climate, September 20, 2019.

    Click the link to read the article on The Guardian website (Bill McKibben). Here’s an excerpt:

    Democracies are making more progress than autocracies when it comes to climate action. But divestment campaigns can put pressure on the most recalcitrant of political leaders

    At first glance, last autumn’s Glasgow climate summit looked a lot like its 25 predecessors. It had:

  • A conference hall the size of an aircraft carrier stuffed with displays from problematic parties (the Saudis, for example, with a giant pavilion saluting their efforts at promoting a “circular carbon economy agenda”).
  • Squadrons of delegates rushing constantly to mysterious sessions (“Showcasing achievements of TBTTP and Protected Areas Initiative of GoP”) while actual negotiations took place in a few back rooms.
  • Earnest protesters with excellent signs (“The wrong Amazon is burning”).
  • But as I wandered the halls and the streets outside, it struck me again and again that a good deal had changed since the last big climate confab in Paris in 2015 – and not just because carbon levels and the temperature had risen ever higher. The biggest shift was in the political climate. Over those few years the world seemed to have swerved sharply away from democracy and toward autocracy – and in the process dramatically limited our ability to fight the climate crisis. Oligarchs of many kinds had grabbed power and were using it to uphold the status quo; there was a Potemkin quality to the whole gathering, as if everyone was reciting a script that no longer reflected the actual politics of the planet.

    Now that we’ve watched Russia launch an oil-fired invasion of Ukraine, it’s a little easier to see this trend in high relief – but Putin is far from the only case…

    The cost of energy delivered by the sun has not risen this year, and it will not rise next year…

    As a general rule of thumb, those territories with the healthiest, least-captive-to-vested-interest democracies are making the most progress on climate change. Look around the world at Iceland or Costa Rica, around Europe at Finland or Spain, around the US at California or New York. So part of the job for climate campaigners is to work for functioning democratic states, where people’s demands for a working future will be prioritized over vested interest, ideology and personal fiefdoms. But given the time constraints that physics impose – the need for rapid action everywhere – that can’t be the whole strategy. In fact, activists have arguably been a little too focused on politics as a source of change, and paid not quite enough attention to the other power center in our civilization: money. If we could somehow persuade or force the world’s financial giants to change, that would yield quick progress as well. Maybe quicker, since speed is more a hallmark of stock exchanges than parliaments.

    And here the news is a little better. Take my country as an example. Political power has come to rest in the reddest, most corrupt parts of America. The senators representing a relative handful of people in sparsely populated western states are able to tie up our political life, and those senators are almost all on the payroll of big oil. But money has collected in the blue parts of the country – Biden-voting counties account for 70% of the country’s economy. That’s one reason some of us have worked so hard on campaigns like fossil fuel divestment – we won big victories with New York’s pension funds and with California’s vast university system, and so were able to put real pressure on big oil. Now we’re doing the same with the huge banks that are the industry’s financial lifeline. We’re well aware that we may never win over Montana or Mississippi, so we better have some solutions that don’t depend on doing so. The same thing’s true globally. We may not be able to advocate in Beijing or Moscow or, increasingly, in Delhi. So, at least for these purposes, it’s useful that the biggest pots of money remain in Manhattan, in London, in Frankfurt, in Tokyo. These are places we still can make some noise.

    One Last #Climate Warning in New IPCC Report: ‘Now or Never’ — Inside Climate News #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    A forest fire next to the Bitterroot River in Montana. UCLA-led research revealed that larger fires tend to be followed by larger increases in streamflow. | Photo by John MacColgan/Creative Commons

    Click the link to read the article on the Inside Climate News website (Bob Berwyn). Here’s an excerpt:

    The world will probably burn through its carbon budget before the global climate panel issues its next update on mitigation

    Whatever words and phrases the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change may have been parsing late into Sunday night, its new report, issued Monday, boils down to yet another dire scientific warning. Greenhouse gas emissions need to peak by 2025 to limit global warming close to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), as targeted by the Paris Agreement, the report says. In a way, it’s a final warning, because at the IPCC’s pace, the world most likely will have burned through its carbon budget by the time the panel releases its next climate mitigation report in about five or six years. Even with the climate clock so close to a deadline, it’s not surprising that the IPCC struggled to find consensus during the two-week approval session, said Paul Maidowski, an independent Berlin-based climate policy researcher and activist. The mitigation report may be the most challenging of the three climate assessments that are done every five to seven years under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, he said.

    The first two reports of each IPCC assessment cycle, one on the physical basis of climate science, and another about impacts and adaptation, are mostly based on unyielding physics, like how much global temperature goes up for every added increment of CO2, and how fast and high sea level will rise based on that warming.

    But the mitigation report, which outlines choices society can make to affect the trajectory of climate change, has to reconcile those scientific realities with economic and political assumptions that are not constrained by physics, Maidowski said. Other researchers have described the IPCC report as a mechanism to determine what is politically possible, he added. If those assumptions—for example about future availability of carbon dioxide removal technology—don’t materialize, “then you are left with illusions, essentially,” he said. The IPCC has “blinded itself” to deeper questions of sustainability and is thus asking the wrong questions, like how to decouple economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions, he added. Instead, it should be more up front about acknowledging the physical limits of the planet, and start asking how to downscale current resource consumption to a sustainable level.

    The report found that “without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, limiting global warming to 1.5°C is beyond reach.”

    On the hopeful side, the panel noted that renewable energy costs have dropped by as much as 85 percent in the past decade, and that new policies in many countries have accelerated deployment of wind and solar power.

    Scientists To Biden: Don’t Ramp Up #FossilFuels — Food & #Water Watch #ActOnClimate

    Click the link to read the release on the Food & Water Watch website (Mark Schlosberg):

    In recent weeks President Biden and his administration have moved to increase fossil fuel production and infrastructure. These actions fly in the face of climate science, which mandates a transition off of fossil fuels right away. Now scientists are speaking out, imploring President Biden to follow through on his commitments. As a candidate, Biden promised to listen to science, but his recent actions suggest the opposite.

    The increased drought, wildfires, hurricanes, and floods that we’ve experienced recently would have been reason enough to curb this plan. But the Ukraine crisis has brought into full view the dangers of continued reliance on fossil fuels. Europe is planning for dramatic cuts in Russian gas and looking toward new sources. Rather than going all-in on renewable energy, Europe wants increased U.S. gas imports — for over a decade to come. This is a recipe for climate disaster.

    A Broken Promise — President Biden Moves to Increase Fossil Fuel Production and Infrastructure

    When President Biden ran for office, he pledged to listen to science. He also pledged to stop new drilling on federal lands, and initiate a transition off of fossil fuels. He was already falling massively short on these promises before the Ukraine crisis, but now he has reversed course completely. He and his administration have urged increased fossil fuel production, rush approvals of its infrastructure, and ramped-up exports to Europe. And his plan envisions a huge increase of gas exports by 2030 — more than tripling a big increase this year.

    What these exports mean for the U.S. is more drilling, fracking, pipelines through communities and massive, polluting industrial facilities. These come with a litany of safety risks and local pollution, which have devastating environmental justice and health impacts.

    It also will have monumental climate impacts, according to the most recent IPCC scientific report. Global emissions continue to increase and the very narrow window to avoid even 2 degrees of warming is rapidly closing. Building more infrastructure will certainly lock us into decades of more emissions.

    As UN Secretary-General António Guterres said upon the release of the IPCC report: “Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness.”

    Failing on Climate: Lies From Leaders Will Be “Catastrophic”

    The Biden approach to climate is, unfortunately, not unique. As the IPCC report highlights, governments worldwide have broken prior commitments even though those fell far short of requirements.

    The only way to avert even worse impacts is to embrace scientific reality and adopt policies matching the rapidly escalating climate emergency. This means confronting hard truths and paying the crisis more than lip service. The only way to really achieve energy independence and security is to move off of fossil fuels. That means making quick, bold investments in renewable energy and immediately halting and rolling back fossil fuels and its infrastructure. To do otherwise fails to confront what is happening. Secretary-General Guterres said: “Some government and business leaders are saying one thing – but doing another…Simply put, they are lying, and the results will be catastrophic.”

    Scientists Implore Biden to Reverse Course Before It’s Too Late

    While President Biden has charted a perilous course, there’s still time to reverse and confront the reality of the climate crisis. Over 275 scientists wrote Biden to implore him to act. This is directly in response to his announced plans to double down on fossil fuels and the IPCC report release. They urged him to instead take bold action to move off fossil fuels and infrastructure and reject the mad dash to increase production and exports.

    The initiative for this letter is led by scientists Bob Howarth, Mark Jacobson, Michael Mann, Sandra Steingraber, and Peter Kalmus. The message is prophetic and clear in its call to action. It concludes:

    “As scientists who look at data every day, we implore you to keep this promise and listen to what the scientific community is saying about fossil fuels and the climate crisis. Do not facilitate more fuel extraction and infrastructure. The impacts of climate change are already significant and we have a very narrow window to avoid runaway climate chaos. We urge you to lead boldly, take on the fossil fuel titans, and rally the country towards a renewable energy future.”

    Help amplify this call to action. Join them, and all of us at Food & Water Watch in calling on President Biden to reject fossil fuels — now.

    Desert hydrology: Science Moab highlights talks with Eric Kuhn, Jack Schmidt, Brian Richter, and Arne Hultquist #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Colorado River near Moab, Utah.

    Click the link to read the article on the Moab Sun News website (Science Moab). Here’s an excerpt:

    In the desert, few issues are as crucial as water. As a historic megadrought continues in the West, water usage is at the top of mind for many scientists. Hydrologists can help us understand how and when to enact new water policies. In this week’s column, Science Moab highlights important messages from conversations with hydrologists, speaking with Eric Kuhn, Jack Schmidt, Brian Richter, and Arne Hultquist.

    Science Moab: Are we bound by water usage policies enacted years ago? If nature can’t sustain those, what then?

    Eric Kuhn: One hundred years ago, we had some flexibility because the river was not very well-used. Today, not a drop of the Colorado River reaches the Gulf of California, so we don’t have that luxury. The way I look at it is: we legally allocated water based on an assumption that this river system had about 20 million acre-feet. Today, we think it’s more like 13, and it might be less in the future with climate change. Predictions and models show that increasing temperatures are going to reduce flows to the Colorado River. The drama is not how much water we’re going to have in the future — we know it’s going to be less. The drama is how we’re going to decide who gets less water, and when…

    These turbines at Lake Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam are at risk of becoming inoperable should levels at Powell fall below what’s known as minimum power pool due to declining flows in the Colorado River. Photo courtesy U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

    Science Moab: At the start of 2021, Lake Powell was at 41% of its capacity. Why should we be so concerned that Lake Powell levels continue to fall to all-time lows?

    Brian Richter: Lake Powell serves three really important benefits. One is that it generates hydropower from the Glen Canyon Dam, which provides electricity throughout the southwestern United States. Two, Lake Powell is important for tourism, which is impacted by falling water levels. But by far the biggest concern is that if Lake Powell drops by another 85 feet — and for reference, the lake level dropped by more than 30 feet in 2020 — then the lake will drop below the hydropower outlets, so all the electricity production out of Glen Canyon Dam will stop. But even worse is that it will become physically impossible to move enough water into the Lower Basin states to provide for their water needs.

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    Ruedi Reservoir at lowest level in two decades: #Water managers waiting to see if spring #runoff is enough to fill depleted storage buckets — @AspenJournalism #FryingpanRiver #RoaringForkRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Ruedi Reservoir on the Fryingpan River as seen on March 24. The reservoir is at its lowest level in nearly two decades, but U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials say if forecasts hold, it should still be able to fill in 2022. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Heather Sackett):

    Ruedi Reservoir is at about its lowest level of the year — and also of the past 19 years — according to numbers from the Bureau of Reclamation.

    As of Wednesday, the reservoir on the Fryingpan River contained 54,914 acre-feet of water and was about 54% full. And according to U.S. Bureau of Reclamation data, outflow is currently slightly more than inflow, meaning levels may not have bottomed out yet.

    The last time the level was this low was in the drought year of 2003 when Ruedi hit 46,117 acre-feet, according to Timothy Miller, a hydrologist with Reclamation, which operates the reservoir. Many reservoirs across the West are at their lowest levels of the year right before spring runoff starts, and water managers will start to see in the next month what this year will bring and whether it’s enough to fill depleted storage buckets.

    Despite the current low levels, Miller said forecasts show Ruedi should be able to fill this year — but just barely. The most recent forecast from the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center shows that spring inflow for Ruedi will be about 96% of average.

    “If we continue to get average precipitation, we should be able to fill by the skin of our teeth,” he said. “We won’t have any extra water. It’s going to be a tight fill.”

    In 2021, Ruedi, which has a capacity of about 102,000 acre-feet, was only about 80% full after spring runoff.

    Ruedi Reservoir was 54% full as of March 24, 2022 — its lowest level in nearly two decades.

    “April hole”

    Something that may influence if and how Ruedi fills this year is a phenomenon called the “April hole.” Agricultural irrigators downstream in the Grand Valley usually begin filling their ditches around April 1, and if irrigation ramps up faster than the snow melts in the high country, there may not be enough water to meet their demand.

    Grand Valley irrigators, with large senior water rights dating to 1912, can command the entire Colorado River and its tributaries in western Colorado by placing a call. This means water users with junior water rights have to stop taking water so that the Grand Valley irrigators can get their entire amount of water to which they are entitled. When these irrigators put a call on the river, known as the “Cameo call,” it can control all junior water rights upstream of their diversion at the roller dam in DeBeque Canyon.

    Water travels through a roller dam, generating power, then continues downstream. Roller Dam near Palisade. The Grand Valley Diversion Dam in DeBeque Canyon sends water from the Colorado River into the Grand Valley Project Canal. Rehabilitation of the structure could be one of the projects funded by the River District’s new Partnership Project Funding Program. Photo credit: Hutchinson Water Center

    The Cameo call doesn’t come in April of every year, but it did in 2021 and lasted for 16 days — the longest April hole ever. Dry soils and hot temperatures in 2020 and 2021, fueled by climate change and drought, robbed the river of flows and created conditions never before seen by water managers.

    “Last year was definitely the extreme,” said James Heath, Division 5 Engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources. “We never had a call in April last that long. The prior longest was in 2002, with five days of call.”

    Instead of curbing their water use when the Cameo call is on, some water users simply release water from Ruedi that they have bought and store there as part of an augmentation plan. The problem, Heath said, is that many of these water replacement plans counted on a call lasting at most seven days.

    “What we are finding is a lot of the plans were originally decreed for a worst-case call scenario of seven days in April,” he said. “Last year, they were diverting out of priority and injuring the downstream water rights.”

    Heath said his office is still figuring out how to address these shortfalls and analyze different entities’ augmentation plans. He said Ruedi had to release about 1,300 acre-feet of water last year to satisfy the Cameo call in April.

    The dam on a frozen Ruedi Reservoir as seen on March 24. Last year, an “April hole” where downstream irrigations demands outpaced snowmelt resulted in a Cameo call and extra releases from Ruedi. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Hydropower production

    A consequence of low levels in Ruedi is a reduced capacity to generate power at the hydroelectric plant, which is operated by the city of Aspen. Steve Hunter, utilities resource manager with the city, said the bottom line is this: the less water, the less power that is able to be produced. Hunter said if water levels fall below 7,700 feet elevation, utilities staff may decide to shut the unit off because the water pressure may not be generating much power. Ruedi was at 7,708.7 feet Wednesday. When Ruedi is full, the surface elevation is 7,766 feet above sea level.

    When hydropower production decreases, Hunter said Aspen fills its all-renewable portfolio by buying more wind power.

    “When hydro goes down, wind picks up the slack,” he said. “We are not in a terrible place right now. We are not Glen Canyon Dam.”

    Hunter was referring to water levels in Lake Powell, which last week dipped to their lowest ever, hitting a target elevation of 3,525 feet, just 35 feet above the minimum level needed to generate hydropower at the dam.

    “Hydropower across the board in the West is being affected by drought,” Hunter said. “This is crunch time, just watching what happens in the next month as we approach peak snow-water equivalent and see what the snowpack does.”

    Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times. This story ran in the March 25 edition of The Aspen Times.

    Data Dump: Glen Canyon dips into hydropower buffer zone; #LakePowell hits 3,525 feet — @Land_Desk #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Lake Powell just north of Glen Canyon Dam. January 2022. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

    Click the link to read the article on the Land Desk website (Jonathan Thompson):

    Lake Powell surface level dropped below the critical 3,525-foot mark sometime on the Ides of March. You’ve probably already read that somewhere, since the national media can’t seem to get enough of the slow motion desiccation of one of the nation’s largest reservoirs. And what’s so critical about 3,525 feet?

    Nothing, really.

    The real critical number is 3,490 feet, otherwise known as the “minimum power pool.” When Lake Powell sinks below that elevation, Glen Canyon Dam can no longer produce hydropower. That’s a big deal because Lake Powell really only serves two purposes these days: recreation and hydropower generation (the water storage component becomes somewhat irrelevant when Lake Mead is as low as it is now). Not only are the dam’s turbines a significant source of power for the Western Grid, but they also provide resilience for the grid in a way that other generators cannot.

    Water managers had hoped to keep the level at least 35 feet above minimum power pool, i.e. above 3,525 feet, so they’d have a bit of a buffer to work with. Now the level is inside the buffer zone, which is reason for concern but not immediate alarm. While the rate of decline has prompted officials to issue a more pessimistic outlook for the reservoir, they don’t expect a loss of hydropower anytime soon. Snowpack levels in the watersheds that feed Lake Powell are slightly below average for this time of year, but are tracking about 7 percent ahead of last year’s levels. Spring runoff will soon begin, inflows will increase, and the lake should begin rising again, staving off the turbine shutdown—for now.

    Let’s get to the data:

  • 3,569 feet above sea level: Lake Powell’s surface level on March 9, 2021.
  • 3,524.9 feet: Level on March 15, 2021.
  • -44 feet: Twelve-month change.
  • 3,490 feet: Level at which Glen Canyon Dam stops producing hydropower.
  • 384 billion gallons: Amount by which Lake Powell’s storage has declined since November 2021.
  • 855,656 megawatt hours: August 2021 output of Four Corners Power Plant.
  • 309,640 megawatt hours: August 2021 output of Glen Canyon Dam
  • Lake Powell storage in acre-feet. 1 acre-foot = 325,851 gallons. USBR.
    Glen Canyon Dam’s power output roughly correlates with storage levels, but also varies month to month according to demand. USBR.
    As water levels drop there is less pressure to turn the dam’s turbines, so less power is generated per unit of water released.

    Glen Canyon Dam, January 2022. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

    Click the link to read the article “Lake Powell hits historic low, raising hydropower concerns” on the Associated Press website (Sam Metz and Felicia Fonseca). Here’s an excerpt:

    Lake Powell’s fall to below 3,525 feet (1,075 meters) puts it at its lowest level since the lake filled after the federal government dammed the Colorado River at Glen Canyon more than a half century ago — a record marking yet another sobering realization of the impacts of climate change and megadrought. It comes as hotter temperatures and less precipitation leave a smaller amount flowing through the over-tapped Colorado River. Though water scarcity is hardly new in the region, hydropower concerns at Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona reflect that a future western states assumed was years away is approaching — and fast.

    “We clearly weren’t sufficiently prepared for the need to move this quickly,” said John Fleck, director of the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program.

    Federal officials are confident water levels will rise in the coming months once snow melts in the Rockies. But they warn that more may need to be done to ensure Glen Canyon Dam can keep producing hydropower in the years ahead…About 5 million customers in seven states — Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — buy power generated at Glen Canyon Dam. The government provides it at a cheaper rate than energy sold on the wholesale market, which can be wind, solar, coal or natural gas. For the cities, rural electric cooperatives and tribes that rely on its hydropower, less water flowing through Glen Canyon Dam can therefore increase total energy costs. Customers bear the brunt…

    Nick Williams, the bureau’s Upper Colorado Basin power manager, said many variables, including precipitation and heat, will determine the extent to which Lake Powell rebounds in the coming months. Regardless, hydrology modeling suggests there’s roughly a 1 in 4 chance it won’t be able to produce power by 2024.

    The boat ramp at the Lake Fork Marina closed for the season on Sept. 2 due to declining reservoir levels. The Bureau of Reclamation is making emergency releases out of Blue Mesa Reservoir to prop up levels in Lake Powell and preserve the ability to make hydropower.

    Click the link to read “Lake Powell drops below critical threshold for the first time despite attempts to avoid it” on the Colorado Public Radio website (Michael Elizabeth Sakas). Here’s an excerpt:

    The reservoir is the second-largest in the U.S., and it’s a key piece of the Colorado River storage and supply system. Powell is fed mostly by snowmelt that collects in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. A 20-year megadrought and a hotter climate, fueled primarily by greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, has contributed to Powell’s levels dropping to all-time lows…

    Colorado and the other states that share the Colorado River agreed to work together to keep Powell above this critical threshold with the Congressionally approved 2019 Drought Contingency Plan. That agreement creates a 35-foot buffer of water before the reservoir hits “dead pool,” when reservoir levels are so low, the hydroelectric generators can no longer produce energy. Water levels in Powell quickly started to drop after years of back-to-back drought. In response, the federal government in 2021 took emergency action and sent water from reservoirs in Colorado and other states to prop up supplies in Powell. Blue Mesa Reservoir outside of Gunnison lost eight feet of water as a result. Ultimately, those releases did not prevent water levels from dropping below the critical threshold. But U.S. Bureau of Reclamation hydraulic engineer Heather Patno said the additional release did add about six feet of water to Powell, and any extra buffer helps protect Powell’s ability to produce energy. Patno said the drop should be temporary as the snow in the mountains starts to melt and recharge the river and reservoirs. She said 2021 was the second-driest year on record for the Colorado River basin, and a very dry first few months of 2022 eroded the snowpack collecting in the mountains…

    New research suggests there might be even less Colorado River water in the future than what’s forecasted.

    A recent report from the Center for Colorado River Studies found that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s projections can be too optimistic, partly because it’s based on the average water inflow into Powell from 1991-2020, a period that includes an abnormal decade in the 90s that was much wetter than the last 20 years. Patno said those findings are important, and it and other studies should be considered when federal and state governments decide how to adapt their water operations to drought. She said Powell projections did improve when the bureau recently switched to using the last 30-year average, but that Powell forecasts rely on models that have a level of risk and uncertainty.

    Powell’s worst-case projections show its level could drop below 3,525 feet again as early as August of this year. Patno said emergency water releases from Blue Mesa and other reservoirs might be needed again as one of the tools to keep Powell propped up, especially as the current snowpack continues to decline. Inflow forecasts into Powell expect about 69 percent of average. The ongoing drought also means dry soil will soak up a lot of that water before it reaches rivers and lakes, Patno said.

    Commissioner Mitchell (CWCB) Statement on Lake Powell Elevation 3525′:

    As of March 15, Lake Powell, a major reservoir that feeds water to the Lower Colorado River Basin, fell below elevation 3525 feet. This is the target elevation identified within the Drought Contingency Plan that provides a buffer to hydropower.

    The decline in Lake Powell was caused by over 20 years of low inflows in the Colorado River System, coupled with depletions that exceeded supplies. The imbalance between depletions and available River flows has historically been compensated by taking water from storage in Lake Powell and Lake Mead to provide for downstream depletions, thus causing declines in reservoir elevations.

    Below is a statement from Colorado River Commissioner Becky Mitchell:

    “Lake Powell hit elevation 3525 feet this week, which is a direct result of depletions from our major reservoirs over the last 20 years coupled with low flows into Lake Powell. As Lake Powell and Lake Mead have declined, water users in the Upper Colorado River Basin have been living on the front lines of climate change. The Upper Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming have been taking water cuts for 20 years due to prolonged drought, while continuing to meet our Compact obligations. On top of this, water has been provided from Flaming Gorge and Blue Mesa Reservoirs in an effort to protect Lake Powell. Going forward, all who rely on the Colorado River System must learn to live with what the River provides and adapt to variability of water supply.”

    For more information and updates, visit the Commissioner’s Corner on the Colorado Water Conservation Board website.

    2022 #COleg: Filling in #Colorado’s decarbonization gaps — @BigPivots #ActOnClimate

    Denver smog. Photo credit: NOAA

    Click the link to read the article on the Big Pivots website (Allen Best):

    Legislators are considering how to nudge emissions from buildings, clean up Front Range air, and bring agriculture into the decarbonization effort

    Conventional wisdom holds that politicians shy away from major initiatives in election years. Some think that is at play in Colorado this year. After all, inflation is at work, energy prices are rising, and analysts predict a rough election year for Democrats in Congress.

    But if Colorado’s 2022 climate and energy legislative agenda certainly won’t match that of 2019, nor of 2021, it’s shaping up as an impressive year to advance the work on achieving economy-wide decarbonization goals of 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050.

    “This is probably not going to be a session filled with transformation legislation on climate change as 2019 and 2021 were, but there are some really good bills,” says Jacob Smith executive director of Colorado Communities for Climate Action, a coalition of 40 local governments.

    An all-electric house. Credit: REWIRING AMERICA

    Legislators are considering bills that seek to advance Colorado’s efforts to reduce emissions associated with buildings, clean up the crappy air quality along the northern Front Range, and bring the agriculture sector into the decarbonization effort.

    Courtesy of Microgrid Knowledge

    Others address microgrids, the potential for carbon storage, and funding for the state’s Office of Just Transition, the agency crafted in 2019 for coal communities and workers to reinvent themselves.

    Legislators in 2019 adopted a remarkable set of bills that essentially pivoted Colorado’s energy system in a way that had never been done. Most prominent were the economy wide decarbonization goals.

    Only 2004, when Colorado voters adopted the first renewable energy portfolio standard, comes close to the same pivot in energy.

    The 2019 tsunami was made possible by heightened worries about climate change but also a shift in the Colorado Senate that gave Democrats majorities in both chambers. This came concurrently with the arrival of Jared Polis as governor after his campaign on a platform of 100% renewable electricity by 2040.

    Then came 2020—and the covid shutdown, followed by the flood of even more powerful bills in 2021, including several that targeted methane from extraction to end-use in buildings. At least one of the ideas adopted in 2021 had been first proposed in 2007 but never got close to the finish line.

    Now is catch-up time, a filling in of the gaps.

    “Last year we essentially had two legislative sessions in one, and we accomplished a lot, and now we need to work on the implementation of it,” says Mike Kruger, chief executive of Colorado Solar and Storage AssociationThat won’t require as much legislation,” he points out. “That’s more regulatory work.”

    Still, even as they waited the governor’s signature on many of the 30-plus bills that had been passed, state legislators indicated they knew there was still major work ahead. State Sen. Steve Feinberg, then the majority leader (and now the Senate president), said a major priority in the 2022 session would be legislation to improve air quality along the Front Range. Sen. Chris Hansen said he was thinking about how to integrate agriculture into Colorado’s decarbonization.

    In September, Hansen revealed at a fundraiser that he intended to introduce legislation that would set interim decarbonization targets for Colorado. Those new targets—for 2028 and for 2040—are intended to create a steady trajectory for Colorado’s decarbonization efforts, to avoid the tendency to punt the decarbonization can down the road until a last-night cram session before the test.

    When did Hansen decide this was needed?

    “I think it was part of what I do essentially every summer and fall, which is really try to think about the important gaps, where they are and which ones, if you were to address them, you’d get the most bang for the buck when it comes to decarbonization,” said Hansen in an interview.

    “So I’m always trying to think about that supply curve, of carbon abatement opportunities, let’s do the cheapest, easiest ones as fast as we can. And that is really kind of driving my policy development process.”

    Meanwhile, in Boulder, State Rep. Edie Hooton was thinking about microgrids, and in Longmont, Rep. Tracey Bernett was thinking about both air quality and buildings.

    This week, the bills having to do with buildings.

    See: Colorado’s carrots and sticks for buildings

    Next week, air quality, agriculture and other bills.

    #ClimateChange: a threat to human wellbeing and health of the planet. Taking action now can secure our future — @IPCC #ActOnClimate

    Click the link to read the release from the IPCC:

    Human-induced climate change is causing dangerous and widespread disruption in nature and affecting the lives of billions of people around the world, despite efforts to reduce the risks. People and ecosystems least able to cope are being hardest hit, said scientists in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, released today.

    “This report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction,” said Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC. “It shows that climate change is a grave and mounting threat to our wellbeing and a healthy planet. Our actions today will shape how people adapt and nature responds to increasing climate risks.”

    The world faces unavoidable multiple climate hazards over the next two decades with global warming of 1.5°C (2.7°F). Even temporarily exceeding this warming level will result in additional severe impacts, some of which will be irreversible. Risks for society will increase, including to infrastructure and low-lying coastal settlements.

    The Summary for Policymakers of the IPCC Working Group II report, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability was approved on Sunday, February 27 2022, by 195 member governments of the IPCC, through a virtual approval session that was held over two weeks starting on February 14.

    Urgent action required to deal with increasing risks

    Increased heatwaves, droughts and floods are already exceeding plants’ and animals’ tolerance thresholds, driving mass mortalities in species such as trees and corals. These weather extremes are occurring simultaneously, causing cascading impacts that are increasingly difficult to manage. They have exposed millions of people to acute food and water insecurity, especially in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, on Small Islands and in the Arctic.

    Daytime high temperatures across the western United States on June 23-28, 2021, according to data from NOAA’s Real-Time Mesoscale Analysis/URMA. animation based on NOAA URMA data.

    To avoid mounting loss of life, biodiversity and infrastructure, ambitious, accelerated action is required to adapt to climate change, at the same time as making rapid, deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. So far, progress on adaptation is uneven and there are increasing gaps between action taken and what is needed to deal with the increasing risks, the new report finds. These gaps are largest among lower-income populations.

    The Working Group II report is the second instalment of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), which will be completed this year.

    “This report recognizes the interdependence of climate, biodiversity and people and integrates natural, social and economic sciences more strongly than earlier IPCC assessments,” said Hoesung Lee. “It emphasizes the urgency of immediate and more ambitious action to address climate risks. Half measures are no longer an option.”

    Safeguarding and strengthening nature is key to securing a liveable future

    There are options to adapt to a changing climate. This report provides new insights into nature’s potential not only to reduce climate risks but also to improve people’s lives.

    A healthy riparian corridor includes native trees and minimal disturbance within 100 feet of the streambank. Waccamaw River photo by Charles Slate.

    “Healthy ecosystems are more resilient to climate change and provide life-critical services such as food and clean water”, said IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair Hans-Otto Pörtner. “By restoring degraded ecosystems and effectively and equitably conserving 30 to 50 per cent of Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean habitats, society can benefit from nature’s capacity to absorb and store carbon, and we can accelerate progress towards sustainable development, but adequate finance and political support are essential.”

    Scientists point out that climate change interacts with global trends such as unsustainable use of natural resources, growing urbanization, social inequalities, losses and damages from extreme events and a pandemic, jeopardizing future development.

    “Our assessment clearly shows that tackling all these different challenges involves everyone – governments, the private sector, civil society – working together to prioritize risk reduction, as well as equity and justice, in decision-making and investment,” said IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair Debra Roberts.

    “In this way, different interests, values and world views can be reconciled. By bringing together scientific and technological know-how as well as Indigenous and local knowledge, solutions will be more effective. Failure to achieve climate resilient and sustainable development will result in a sub-optimal future for people and nature.”

    Cities: Hotspots of impacts and risks, but also a crucial part of the solution

    North American Drought Monitor map January 2022

    This report provides a detailed assessment of climate change impacts, risks and adaptation in cities, where more than half the world’s population lives. People’s health, lives and livelihoods, as well as property and critical infrastructure, including energy and transportation systems, are being increasingly adversely affected by hazards from heatwaves, storms, drought and flooding as well as slow-onset changes, including sea level rise.

    “Together, growing urbanization and climate change create complex risks, especially for those cities that already experience poorly planned urban growth, high levels of poverty and unemployment, and a lack of basic services,” Debra Roberts said.

    Water-efficient garden, in Israel. Photo: Paul Andersen/Aspen Journalism

    “But cities also provide opportunities for climate action – green buildings, reliable supplies of clean water and renewable energy, and sustainable transport systems that connect urban and rural areas can all lead to a more inclusive, fairer society.”

    There is increasing evidence of adaptation that has caused unintended consequences, for example destroying nature, putting peoples’ lives at risk or increasing greenhouse gas emissions. This can be avoided by involving everyone in planning, attention to equity and justice, and drawing on Indigenous and local knowledge.

    A narrowing window for action

    Denver School Strike for Climate, September 20, 2019.

    Climate change is a global challenge that requires local solutions and that’s why the Working Group II contribution to the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) provides extensive regional information to enable Climate Resilient Development.

    The report clearly states Climate Resilient Development is already challenging at current warming levels. It will become more limited if global warming exceeds 1.5°C (2.7°F). In some regions it will be impossible if global warming exceeds 2°C (3.6°F). This key finding underlines the urgency for climate action, focusing on equity and justice. Adequate funding, technology transfer, political commitment and partnership lead to more effective climate change adaptation and emissions reductions.

    “The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner.

    For more information, please contact:

    IPCC Press Office, Email: IPCC Working Group II:
    Sina Löschke, Komila Nabiyeva:

    Photo credit: Elisa Stone via the World Weather Attribution

    Click the link to read “Humanity has a ‘brief and rapidly closing window’ to avoid a hotter, deadly future, U.N. climate report says: Latest IPCC report details escalating toll — but top scientists say the world still can choose a less catastrophic path” from The Washington Post (Sarah Kaplan and Brady Dennis). Here’s an excerpt:

    Atmospheric CO2 at Mauna Loa Observatory August 7, 2021.

    Unchecked greenhouse gas emissions will raise sea levels several feet, swallowing small island nations and overwhelming even the world’s wealthiest coastal regions. Drought, heat, hunger and disaster may force millions of people from their homes. Coral reefs could vanish, along with a growing number of animal species. Disease-carrying insects would proliferate. Deaths — from malnutrition, extreme heat, pollution — will surge.

    These are some of the grim projections detailed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations body dedicated to providing policymakers with regular assessments of the warming world…

    Low-income countries, which generate only a tiny fraction of global emissions, will experience the vast majority of deaths and displacement from the worst-case warming scenarios, the IPCC warns. Yet these nations have the least capacity to adapt — a disparity that extends to even the basic research needed to understand looming risks.

    “I have seen many scientific reports in my time, but nothing like this,” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said in a statement. Noting the litany of devastating impacts that already are unfolding, he described the document as “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership.”


    Yet if there is a glimmer of hope in the more than 3,500-page report, it is that the world still has a chance to choose a less catastrophic path. While some climate impacts are destined to worsen, the amount that Earth ultimately warms is not yet written in stone.

    The report makes clear, however, that averting the worst-case scenarios will require nothing less than transformational change on a global scale.

    Denver City Park sunrise

    The world will need to overhaul energy systems, redesign cities and revolutionize how humans grow food. Rather than reacting to climate disturbances after they happen, the IPCC says, communities must more aggressively adapt for the changes they know are coming. These investments could save trillions of dollars and millions of lives, but they have so far been in short supply.

    The IPCC report is a warning letter to a world on the brink. The urgency and escalating toll of climate change has never been clearer, it says. Humanity can’t afford to wait one more day to take action — otherwise we may miss the “brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all.”

    As #Warming and #Drought Increase, A New Case for Ending Big Dams: “Climate change is, first of all, a story about water” — Yale Environment 360 #ActOnClimate

    These turbines at Lake Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam are at risk of becoming inoperable should levels at Powell fall below what’s known as minimum power pool due to declining flows in the Colorado River. Photo courtesy U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

    Click on the link to read the article on Yale Environment 360 (Jacques Leslie):

    The argument against major hydropower projects — ravaged ecosystems and large-scale displacement of people — is well known. But dam critics now say that climate change, bringing dried-up reservoirs and increased methane releases, should spell the end of big hydropower.

    As the hydroelectric dam industry tries to reposition itself as a climate change solution, more and more evidence shows that climate change actually undermines the case for hydro dams.

    Gone are the days when hydropower was considered the predominant engine of the world economy, leading a tenfold increase⁠ in global energy production over the twentieth century. Now its advocates portray it as a complement to wind and solar energy, a necessary source of steady output to balance wind and solar’s intermittent generation — and therefore a key component in the battle to limit climate change.

    Hydroelectric Dam

    One reason for the industry’s shift in strategy is that newly installed global capacity in hydropower lags far behind new wind and solar capacity, and declined each year from 2013 to 2019⁠, with only a slight uptick in 2020. Another reason is that if hydropower is accepted as a tool for combating climate change, hydro developers would have a better chance of qualifying for financial support from governments and international institutions — all possessing funds they need for their pricey projects. With the ongoing United Nations conference on climate change in Glasgow in mind, Eddie Rich, chief executive officer of the International Hydropower Association (IHA), said recently that because of hydropower’s purported climate change-fighting attributes, his group seeks “appropriate support in the form of tax relief or concessional loans to ensure projects are bankable, as well as streamlining the approval process.”

    Since the late 1980’s, this waterfall formed from interactions among Lake Powell reservoir levels and sedimentation that redirected the San Juan River over a 20-foot high sandstone ledge. Until recently, little was known about its effect on two endangered fishes. Between 2015-2017, more than 1,000 razorback sucker and dozens of Colorado pikeminnow were detected downstream of the waterfall. Credit: Bureau of Reclamation

    But the IHA faces an uphill battle in overcoming dams’ well-established liabilities — including ravaging the ecosystems of at least two-thirds of the world’s major rivers and upending the lives of hundreds of millions of people living both upstream and downstream from dams. Climate change further weakens the case for hydroelectric dams by intensifying droughts that increasingly hamper electricity production and by boosting evaporation from reservoirs as temperatures rise. In the pre-climate change era, plentiful methane emissions from some reservoirs might have been considered inconsequential, but now they are a major source of concern.

    The just-completed 2021 World Hydropower Congress — whose theme was “Renewables Working Together” ⁠— ended with the announcement of the “San José Declaration on Sustainable Hydropower,” a document that affirms the industry’s commitment to best practices, including careful consultation with communities threatened by dam construction, responsible management of biodiversity impacts, and a long-overdue ban on projects in UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The document has been endorsed by at least 40 governments and such luminaries as Tony Blair, former British prime minister, and Malcolm Turnbull, former Australian prime minister.

    But there is ample evidence that the IHA’s efforts amount chiefly to greenwashing, portraying the industry as socially and environmentally sensitive while carrying out business as usual. For all its gaudy rhetoric, the San José Declaration contains vague and untested enforcement mechanisms⁠, and it remains unlikely that IHA member companies would be disciplined for violating its provisions.

    The 510-MW Teesta-V hydropower station, in Sikkim in northern India, has been rated as an example of international good practice in hydropower sustainability, according to an independent report. Photo credit: Hydropower Review

    A case in point is the Teesta-V hydroelectric dam in the Indian Himalayan state of Sikkim, constructed on a Brahmaputra River tributary and completed in 2008. In September the IHA awarded the project its “Blue Planet” Prize for “excellence in sustainable hydropower development⁠,” noting that Teesta-V “met or exceeded international good practice” across 20 performance standards — ranging from cultural heritage to erosion to sedimentation — embraced by the IHA. Yet according to International Rivers⁠, a nonprofit that advocates for people imperiled by dams, there was minimal consultation with local and Indigenous residents during the dam’s planning and construction, and blasting and tunneling caused landslides, sinkholes, drying up of residents’ water sources, and cracked walls and foundations in local houses that sometimes led to collapses, leaving some residents homeless. Last year, what India Today called a “massive” landslide beginning at the dam’s abutment⁠ left large boulders on top of the dam, damag⁠ing it and cutting off electricity generation for nine hours. It’s far from reassuring that the IHA chose Teesta-V as the best of dozens⁠ of projects evaluated for the prize.

    This photo from December 2021 shows one of the intake towers at Hoover Dam. California, Nevada and Arizona recently penned a deal to keep 500,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead to boost the declining reservoir levels.

    The hydro industry portrays itself as the perfect antidote for wind and solar’s intermittency, but climate change has underlined the industry’s own reliability problem, which plays out in years instead of hours. In recent years, drought intensified by climate change has caused reservoirs on all five continents⁠ to drop below levels needed to maintain hydroelectric production, and the problem is bound to worsen as climate change deepens. Because of the U.S. West’s current megadrought, California’s huge State Water Project is generating electricity at just 35 percent of its 10-year average⁠. At Oroville, California, site of the United States’ tallest dam, the power plant stopped working on August 5 and has not operated since⁠. Hydropower capacity at Hoover Dam, which holds back the U.S.’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead, has dropped by 25 percent⁠, and Glen Canyon Dam, site of the nation’s second-largest reservoir, Lake Powell, may be unable to generate any electricity⁠ as soon as next year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Because of the drought, the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimated in September that national hydropower production would drop by 14 percent from 2020 to 2021.

    The international picture is no better. Beginning in 2013, Southern Africa has experienced frequent droughts⁠ that caused the world’s largest manmade reservoir, at the Kariba Dam on the Zambia-Zimbabwe border, to fall to 11 percent of capacity by 2019, frequently hampering electricity generation. This was a serious blow to the two countries’ economies, and millions of people⁠ experienced blackouts for extended periods. In South America, the worst drought in a century⁠ has caused huge drops in hydropower output, causing electricity shortages, price increases, and economic crises⁠ in Brazil, Chile, and Paraguay. Dams customarily deliver two-thirds of Brazil’s energy output, but reservoir levels have dropped to 24 percent of capacity⁠. Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s Trumpian president, is far from a conservationist, but in March he called on Brazilians⁠ to “turn off a light at home” a few days before the government increased electricity prices by 7 percent.

    Climate change has made dams unreliable in another way — the hydrological record, already limited by the low number of years it covers, has lost what predictive power it possessed. This has introduced vast uncertainty into flow assumptions that engineers took as their starting point in dam design. Now “thousand-year floods” may happen every decade or more, and permanent rivers may dwindle to trickles. Since climate change will produce more and bigger floods, new reservoirs must be expanded to accommodate them — adding to dams’ costs and environmental destruction. But most of the time, that additional capacity will go unused, increasing the dams’ inefficiency.

    All this casts further doubt on another IHA claim, of hydro dams’ “affordability.” A stud⁠y appearing this month in Global Environmental Change that assessed 351 proposed Amazon basin hydroelectric dam projects found that, because of climate-change-augmented drought, periods when the dams are incapable of producing electricity would increase, and periods when the plants operate at full capacity would decrease. As a result, many projects would have to more than double their planned electricity rates in order to break even — as the study put it, “rendering much of future Amazon hydropower less competitive than increasingly lower cost renewable sources such as wind and solar.”

    Even disregarding climate change, the case for investing in dams has grown weaker in the last decade. A landmark 2014 Oxford University study in Energy Policy that evaluated 245 large dams found that they weren’t cost-effective and that their actual costs were nearly double their budgeted costs. Rich, the IHA chief executive, argued in an interview that the study was misleading because it omitted the bountiful indirect benefits of hydropower, in the form of economic stimulus. But the study also didn’t consider the indirect harm inflicted by dams — fish extinctions, ecosystem destruction, shattered Indigenous societies, the forced resettlement of at least 100 million people displaced by reservoirs, and life-changing disruptions to the lives of another half-billion downstream dwellers. The study asked one question — are dams profitable? — and answered it with a “no.” The indirect costs and benefits are much harder to calculate, but it’s difficult to imagine that their transient benefits would surpass their permanent environmental devastation.

    A follow-up Oxford University study⁠ published last month identifies a consistent bias in cost-benefit analyses of public investments that leads to overestimates of project benefits and underestimates of costs — and of the eight investment types studied (including railroads, bridges, roads, etc.), dams’ cost overruns were by far the highest. In part, this is because large dams take so long to build — more than eight years on average, not counting a few years of studying, planning, and acquiring permits — which makes the likelihood of unanticipated setbacks and cost increases, so-called “black swans,” much higher. Dams’ long gestation periods diminish their usefulness in fighting climate change, since the accelerating nature of the climate crisis means that infrastructure operating in the next few years is far more valuable than infrastructure completed a decade from now.

    Even the hydro industry’s claim that dams generate “clean” energy is only partially true, for a significant fraction of reservoirs emit copious amounts of methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas that this August’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report singled out as requiring “strong, rapid, and sustained” ⁠emission reductions to ward off more catastrophic warming. A 2019 study⁠ of 509 existing and proposed Amazon basin dams found that over a 20-year period, emissions from 25 percent of proposed lowland dams would emit more greenhouse gases than fossil fuel power plants. In the interview, Rich countered that other studies show that, over dams’ entire lifecycle⁠, their emissions would be no greater than “green” technologies such as wind and solar. But even if true, this assertion overlooks the fact that most methane emissions from reservoirs occur in the first decade after commissioning, at the very time when reductions in methane emissions are considered most urgent.

    Climate change is, first of all, a story about water. Since climate change has upended the planet’s hydrology, countering it requires a capacity to deal with massive uncertainty. Technologies that can do that must be nimble, flexible, modular (not one-of-a-kind), quickly and cheaply built, easily moved and replaced — like recently developed mini-hydro units⁠ a fourth the size of a railroad car⁠ that can be sited along the sides of rivers and canals and generate up to a megawatt of electricity in concert with natural river functions and with negligible damage to fish and environment.

    Glen Canyon Dam releases. Photo via Twitter and Reclamation

    By contrast, big hydroelectric dams menace ecosystems even beyond their own watersheds, and require upfront expenditures into the billions of dollars that don’t generate electricity or revenue for years. Their monumentality was once considered a public relations asset, yielding images of massive walls and tumbling water that world leaders loved to brandish in seeming validation of their own grandeur. Now all that cement means that the dams are stolid, inflexible, hard to repair, impossible to relocate, and extremely costly to remove — the opposite of what the new era requires.

    USACE: #MissouriRiver power output below average in 2021 — The Associated Press #drought

    Map of the Missouri River drainage basin in the US and Canada. made using USGS and Natural Earth data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

    From The Associated Press (James MacPherson):

    Electric power generation from the Missouri River’s six upstream dams fell below average in 2021, forcing the federal agency that sells the power to buy electricity on the open market to fulfill contracts — a cost that may ultimately be passed on to ratepayers in a half-dozen states.

    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages dams and reservoirs along the 2,341-mile river. Mike Swenson, a Corps engineer in Omaha, Nebraska, said Thursday that energy production from the dams in the Dakotas, Montana and Nebraska was below average because water was kept in reservoirs to make up for drought conditions.

    Energy production totaled 8.6 billion kilowatts of electricity in 2021, down from 10.1 billion kilowatts in 2020. A billion kilowatt-hours of power is enough to supply about 86,000 homes for a year.

    The dams have generated an average of about 9.4 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity since 1967, including a high of 14.6 billion kilowatts in 1997. During the driest years this century, power plant output dwindled below 5 billion kilowatt-hours in 2007 and 2008, the Corps said.

    The agency bought $18 million of electricity on the open market in fiscal 2021 that ended Sept. 30, data show.

    The cost to individual ratepayers likely would be minimal, Meiman said.

    Purchasing power to fulfill contracts is not unusual. The Western Area Power Administration has spent $1.5 billion since 2000 to fulfill contracts due to shallow river levels caused by drought, Meiman said.

    Oahe Dam near Pierre, South Dakota, which holds Lake Oahe, and Garrison Dam, which creates Lake Sakakawea in North Dakota, are typically the biggest power producers in the Missouri River system.

    Swenson said Oahe Dam generated 2.4 billion kilowatt-hours last year, down from the long-term average of 2.7 kilowatt-hours. Garrison Dam generated 2 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity last year, down from long-term average of 2.3 billion kilowatt-hours, he said.

    The Corps is charged with finding a balance between upstream states, which want water held in reservoirs to support fish reproduction and recreation, and downstream states, which want more water released from the dams, mainly to support barge traffic…

    The water storage level of the six upstream reservoirs is about 48 million acre-feet at present, or about 15% below the ideal level, Swenson said.

    2022 #COleg: Republican state lawmakers look to micro-#nuclear power, #hydroelectricity — #Colorado Newsline #ActOnClimate

    Nuclear Power Plant

    Republican state lawmakers say they want to look at cleaner power generation, but not necessarily from wind and solar energy. They’re eyeing nuclear and hydroelectric power instead.

    A proposed law spearheaded by Sen. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, and House Minority Leader Hugh McKean, R-Loveland, would require the state to study whether small modular nuclear reactors could be used as a carbon-free energy source in Colorado.


    Senate Bill 22-73 “puts Colorado at the forefront of renewable energy by investigating the possibility of bringing micro-nuclear technology to the state of Colorado,” Rep. Dan Woog, R-Erie, said during a Jan. 12 news conference where Republicans announced their policy priorities for the upcoming legislative session.

    Such “micro-nuclear” technology uses compact nuclear reactors that are small enough to transport by truck, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Micro-reactor designs that are under development in the U.S. could be “ready to roll out within the next decade,” the department’s website says.

    At least one Colorado community has already begun looking into the technology. With a likely early closure of Comanche 3, Pueblo County’s coal-fired power plant, county leaders want a power station that uses small modular reactors to replace the energy production and tax revenue from the coal plant. But some community organizers in Pueblo staunchly oppose that plan, citing health and safety concerns.

    “This issue of renewable energy is not one that we reject,” Rankin said at Republicans’ Jan. 12 news conference. “We do not reject climate change. … We do take the position that our goals are perhaps not realistic, and our pace of moving away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy has done damage to some communities and some individuals, and that may not have been necessary.”

    SB-73, one of 44 bills that Republicans are pushing as part of their main policy agenda, would allocate $500,000 in the next fiscal year for the micro-nuclear feasibility study. The study would evaluate how current state laws would need to be changed to allow for the construction and operation of small modular nuclear reactors, as well as the economic feasibility of replacing carbon-based energy sources with micro-nuclear technology.

    By July 1, 2024, the director of the Office of Economic Development and International Trade would need to provide a written report to state lawmakers based on the study’s findings.

    SB-73 would also change the definition of “recycled energy” in state law to allow greater use of hydroelectric power.

    “What we want to do is we want to emphasize that maybe it’s not all about wind and solar,” Rankin said. “Maybe there are other alternatives. If we’re going to be a part of this goal, and we are, to transition (to renewable energy), then we want to consider all resources.”

    Since Democrats hold the majority in the state Senate and House of Representatives, SB-73 will need Democratic support to pass. The bill was introduced on Wednesday and assigned to the State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee. A hearing date had not been scheduled as of Friday.


    Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

    Low #Runoff Continues To Stress #ColoradoRiver Basin, #LakePowell Facilities — National Parks Traveller #COriver #aridification

    Glen Canyon Dam August 2021. The white on the sandstone reflects where the water level once was. Dropping levels at Lake Powell are forcing a reduction in outflows from the Glen Canyon Dam. Photo credit: USBR

    From the National Park Service via National Parks Traveller:

    Continued declines in runoff into the Colorado River are forcing federal officials to alter releases from Glen Canyon Dam and leading to a year-long closure of the Dangling Rope Marina at Lake Powell in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

    In a bid to keep the hydroelectric generating plant in the dam operational, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has adjusted the monthly releases from Lake Powell to hold back 350,000 acre-feet of water each month from January to April when inflows to the reservoir are low.

    The same amount of water will be sent downstream to Lake Mead between June and September after spring runoff, the agency said.

    “Under the Drought Response Operations Agreement, making these monthly operational adjustments at Glen Canyon Dam is essential to protect Lake Powell from dropping to critically low elevation levels in the weeks and months ahead,” said BuRec’s Upper Colorado Basin Regional director, Wayne Pullan. “Although the basin had substantial snowstorms in December, we don’t know what lies ahead and must do all we can now to protect Lake Powell’s elevation.”

    The modified release pattern was put into action after BuRec staff met with basin partners including the basin states, tribes, federal agencies, non-governmental organizations and water managers to discuss the purpose and need to shift the delivery schedule of water.

    According to a BuRec release, the 2022 water year got off to a promising start in the Colorado River Basin with a wetter-than-normal October, but it was followed by the second-driest November on record that resulted in a loss of 1.5 million acre-feet of inflow for Lake Powell compared to the previous month’s projections. December projections showed the reservoir dropping below the target elevation of 3,525 feet as early as February 2022, the agency said. As defined in the Drought Response Operations Agreement, the target elevation provides a sufficient buffer to allow for response actions to prevent Lake Powell from dropping below the minimum power pool elevation of 3,490 feet, the lowest elevation that Glen Canyon Dam can generate hydropower.

    The Dangling Rope Marina on Lake Powell will not open this year [2022]. Photo credit: NPS

    Meanwhile, Glen Canyon NRA officials announced Monday that the Dangling Rope Marina in the southern end of Lake Powell will not open this year.

    Due to dropping reservoir levels, park and concessioner staff are removing marina components from the Dangling Rope location to ensure they do not become beached and inaccessible.

    The park, in partnership with concessioner Aramark, is continuing to look for a way to provide mid-lake fuel service during the 2022 season. Available options are complicated by lake levels that continue to decline, inherent challenges associated with the infrastructure needed to power and operate a fuel system, and operational considerations related to safety, staffing, and resources. We will continue to provide updates as they become available.

    Restoring visitor services at the Dangling Rope Marina remains a high priority for Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The importance of this visitor use area is identified in the park’s General Management Plan. The park will continue to seek long-term solutions that maintain a mid-lake marina presence at low and high lake levels…

    Dangling Rope Marina has been the only place to obtain boat fuel between the Wahweap area in South Lake Powell and the Bullfrog area in North Lake Powell, a distance of approximately 100 miles. Boaters should plan ahead for their needs. For boaters averaging 20-25 mph, the trip to Bullfrog from Wahweap takes at least four to five hours. Fuel remains available at Wahweap, Antelope Point, and Bullfrog Marinas.

    In Las Vegas, experts eye declining #ColoradoRiver flows, electricity woes and federal budget impacts — @WaterEdCO #crwua2021 #COriver #aridification

    as Vegas Strip, Dec. 14, 2021. Credit: Allen Best

    From Water Education Colorado (Allen Best):

    Las Vegas: For every month that Lake Powell’s drought-strapped hydropower system fails to produce enough electricity to sell to Colorado utilities and others across the West, millions of dollars are being lost.

    That federal power revenue supports vital salinity reduction programs for farmers and efforts to recover endangered fish. But with no prospect of relief in sight — inflows into Powell this year were just 26% of average — utilities and states will see their costs rise to make up the shortfall, experts said Tuesday at the Colorado River Water Users Association conference in Las Vegas.

    “We have to explore a lot of alternative funding strategies with the hydropower sector likely to diminish in time,” said Don Barnett, executive director of the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Forum, in a session called “No Spare Change.”

    Much more rain and, especially, snow in Colorado and other Upper Colorado River Basin states will be needed during the next two years to ensure continued production of electricity in Glen Canyon and other dams in the Colorado River system.

    Since the creation of the dams on the Colorado and other rivers across the American Southwest, hydropower has provided a relatively inexpensive source of electricity to municipal and cooperative utilities in Colorado and other states. Portions of the revenue from hydroelectric sales go to support the salinity and endangered fish programs.

    Already this year, shrinking river flows in the Colorado and several other rivers in the Southwest have reduced power sales 37% in the Colorado River Storage Project, which includes Lake Powell, Flaming Gorge Reservoir, Blue Mesa Reservoir and Navajo Reservoir.

    Now there is a heightened focus on the reservoir levels at Lake Powell, where Glen Canyon Dam generates 75% to 80% of the electricity distributed by the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA).

    “In case nobody was paying attention, there is a drought in the Upper Colorado River Basin,” Tom Vigil, the Montrose, Colo.-based manager of the Colorado River Storage Project for WAPA, said. “Things have gotten a little bit worse lately and there’s a cumulative effect.”

    Record-low inflow into Powell in the water year ending in September triggered a first-ever shortage declaration in August, meaning that Arizona, Nevada and California will have to cut their water use. WAPA in October projected a one-in-three chance that Glen Canyon Dam might be at minimum power pool in 2023, unable to produce power at all. That level is elevation 3,525 feet. Even now power production is falling because the low reservoir levels mean less pressure on the turbines. With less pressure, power production is reduced.

    But WAPA must still deliver power to its customers. This is done by buying more expensive electricity on the open market. To cover those costs, WAPA raised its rates Dec. 1 to $3 per megawatt hour, a 14% increase.

    WAPA will likely increase rates even more, but there’s a limit to how much it can charge. At some point, customers will go elsewhere to buy their power. And that, of course, means less revenue from WAPA and the federal programs that depend upon WAPA revenues.

    In the short term, WAPA has been delaying some maintenance and capital projects. Delay can work for only so long, however. Vigil said deferred maintenance to the transmission system — one of the major assets of the agency — can result in rising risk of disrupted power supplies. Payments to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the operator of the dams and the generator of the electricity distributed by WAPA, have also been postponed.

    Shrinking federal power sales revenue has Barnett and others involved in the salinity program anxious. The program has about $15 million in delayed work.

    Barnett made the case for the cost-effectiveness of salinity control in the Upper Basin states. The diminished salt in the Colorado River saved Clark County, home to Las Vegas, $45 million in just last year.

    In a snapshot of the current state of affairs, Barnett explained that the federal program has a cost-share obligation with states of $10 million. The federal fund from hydropower sales has delivered only $8.5 million. That means a delay of $1.5 million of salinity control programs for next year. “We are pretty anxious about that.”

    Since the late 1980’s, this waterfall formed from interactions among reservoir levels and sedimentation that redirected the San Juan River over a 20-foot high sandstone ledge. Until recently, little was known about its effect on two endangered fishes. Between 2015-2017, more than 1,000 razorback sucker and dozens of Colorado pikeminnow were detected downstream of the waterfall. Credit: Bureau of Reclamation

    The endangered fish recovery programs in the upper Colorado River, San Juan and lower Colorado River offer a parallel story. Tom Chart is the recently retired former director of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program.

    The program has had successes, including the efforts to recover populations of four species in the upper Colorado River above Moab, Utah. The most recent milestone was the No. 17 down-listing of the humpback chub from endangered to threatened.

    Chart said he foresaw the need to shift funding for the continuation of the fish program, currently at 50% federal and 50% states, to a larger role for state funding, as much as 70%.

    Long-time Colorado journalist Allen Best publishes Big Pivots, an e-magazine that covers energy and other transitions in Colorado. He can be reached at and

    These turbines at Lake Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam are at risk of becoming inoperable should levels at Powell fall below what’s known as minimum power pool due to declining flows in the Colorado River. Photo courtesy U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

    Largest-Ever U.S. #Climate Investment Clears U.S. House of Representatives: Build Back Better Act includes major investments in clean energy, climate action — Nature

    Coyote Gulch’s Leaf charging in the Town of Kremmling Town Park August 21, 2017.

    Here’s the release from The Nature Conservancy (Eric Bontrager):

    The following is a statement by Kameran Onley, director of North American policy and government relations at The Nature Conservancy, after the U.S. House of Representatives approved the $1.7 trillion Build Back Better Act that includes the United States’ largest-ever investment in climate action:

    “The Build Back Better Act would help us achieve the emissions cuts and nature gains we need to ensure a cleaner, healthier, safer future. It includes $555 billion in climate investments and stronger policies to address the climate crisis than we’ve ever seen before.

    “These are vital investments for supporting a strong economy, a healthy population and a sustainable, resilient natural world.

    “This bill would bring unprecedented investments in clean energy, climate-smart forestry and agriculture initiatives and a civilian climate corps. All are substantial and much-needed advances that would also create jobs and improve our quality of life. These are vital investments for supporting a strong economy, a healthy population and a sustainable, resilient natural world.

    “Today’s progress on this bill, along with the newly enacted bipartisan infrastructure bill, gives us a healthy dose of the momentum and hope we need to fully tackle the twin climate and nature crises. They are also a promise to the world that the United States will live up to its climate commitments and lead the way on providing solutions. Together with recent international commitments to reduce methane emissions and global deforestation, this collective movement to get serious on climate action can make a tremendous difference and energize us for continued progress.

    “As the bill heads to the Senate for consideration, we look forward to working with congressional leaders to ensure the final Build Back Better Act contains robust and effective climate provisions.”

    The Power Grid: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

    Transmission tower near Firestone. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    John Oliver discusses the current state of the nation’s power grid, why it needs fixing, and, of course, how fun balloons are.

    New hydropower plant under construction — KKCO

    Orchard Mesa Irrigation District power plant near Palisade. Water from Colorado’s snowpack is distributed across the region through a complex network of dams, pipelines and irrigation canals. Photo credit: Orchard Mesa Irrigation District

    From KKCO (Cristian Sida):

    The Orchard Mesa Irrigation District held a ceremony for the new power plant constructed.

    The Grand Valley Power Plant was switched off in today’s groundbreaking ceremony as construction began on the new hydroelectric Vinelands Power Plant.

    Max Schmidt, the manager of Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, says it was time to pull the plug.

    “We took operation of the old power plant, and it’s 90 years old built in 1932, and it’s completely worn out. We are going to shut it down today [October 28, 2021], hopefully for the last time,” said Schmidt…

    This new plant will allow for more power to be produced at the same flow rates.

    “I can rebuild it for 3.5 megawatt, but if I build a brand new power plant for 4.54 megawatts. It will produce an extra four megawatts. Three megawatts is enough to power to the city of Palisade,” said Schmidt.

    We are told the construction of a new plant is a win-win situation for the community.

    “Number one is it provides additional water for recreation from the start Colorado river clear down to Lake Powell. Secondly, it provides clean energy generation, which we all know is a necessary thing. Third, it provides water for the 50-mile reach,” said Rob Talbott, the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District president…

    The project has been in the works for about five years.

    “We had to secure funding for the funding. This project is almost 65-70 percent funded by grants. Secondly, we were working with various agencies. We had to get the ability to sell the electricity to a buyer who’s willing to pay an adequate fee for the electricity we needed to work with the bureau of reclamation,” said Talbott.

    Sorenson Engineering will construct the Vinelands Power Plant, and energy will be used by Holy Cross Energy.

    Water expert found his roots in #water scarcity — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel

    Max Schmidt, general manager of the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District in Palisade. (Photo by Osha Gray Davidson)

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Sam Klomhaus):

    [Max] Schmidt, 72, has managed the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District since 2009. Before that, he spent almost 20 years with the Natural Resource Conservation Service designing irrigation systems. And, before that, he was a produce farmer in West Texas.

    In Texas, Schmidt cultivated cabbage, carrots, watermelon, broccoli, spinach, sweet corn, cantaloupe and peppers.

    When he was 40, Schmidt realized he was working 18 hours a day, seven days a week, and he wanted to watch his three children grow up, so he packed up and headed to the Grand Valley. He loves it here, and so do his kids…

    Schmidt says he thoroughly enjoyed farming when he did it, and he misses it sometimes, but “I like watching other people farm.”

    Agriculture is very important to Schmidt, and it’s clear that’s one of the things he likes best about his job and living in Western Colorado…

    Working in water means Schmidt understands the complicated subject of water rights better than most.

    “Colorado’s water history is really interesting,” he said. Some of the buildings he manages are 110 years old…

    Orchard Mesa Irrigation District power plant near Palisade. Water from Colorado’s snowpack is distributed across the region through a complex network of dams, pipelines and irrigation canals. Photo credit: Orchard Mesa Irrigation District

    The Orchard Mesa irrigation District and Grand Valley Water Users Association are looking to build a new hydro plant adjacent to the current one in Orchard Mesa, to the tune of about $10 million.

    Schmidt said he plans to retire after the new plant is completed. After that, he wants to travel. He said he’s going to start with all the national parks, and maybe ride some trains around.